Increased flexibility on greening measures has been announced by Brussels and is due to come into force at the end of the year.
Farmers with more than 75% of their land in grass, herbaceous forage, leguminous crops or fallow may be exempted from crop diversification and Ecological Focus Areas (EFA), although analysis done by the Scottish Government suggests that this will affect only a small number of growers.
A new 1.5 times EFA weighting factor is also being introduced for land lying fallow for melliferous – pollen and nectar-rich – species of plants.
The weighting factor for EFA nitrogen-fixing crops is to be increased from 0.7 to 1.0, making it the same as for EFA fallow. However detailed rules on when these would have to be planted and on their management, have not been published.
These changes are in addition to the positive measures already included in the Scottish Government’s guidance documents for 2018. These include the new EFA hedges option and the ability to do some drainage work during the EFA Fallow period.
The moves have been welcomed by the farmers union (NFUS) with the caveat that while the EU Commission guidance says the changes will come into force at the end of the year, official publication is not expected until well into 2018 which means there are legal questions about applying the new rules in advance of their official publication. NFUS is currently in discussion with Scottish Government officials about the situation.
NFUS vice-president Gary Mitchell said: “There have been a number of technical changes to the greening rules, all of which are positive.
“These changes will still deliver on all the environmental and biodiversity requirements set by greening but give farmers some much needed flexibility.”
Farmers who are not yet familiar with the detail of the changes have been urged to read the Scottish Government’s greening booklet for 2018 before the new scheme year begins.