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Farmers urged to act fast ahead of sweeping reforms

FARMERS and landowners in the North East and Northumberland have been urged to play their part in shaping new government reforms which could have a major impact on the countryside economy.

The Darlington office of property and surveying firm Smiths Gore is warning that there is now just over a week left for people to contribute to a consultation on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms.

CAP is the EU’s programme to support farming, the environment and rural development across Europe and the latest reforms will be implemented from 2015 to 2020.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has already confirmed several key areas of the reform – but a number of critical issues have yet to be decided and views are being sought from anyone the changes might affect.

Among the issues already confirmed are the setting of the minimum claim size for a piece of land – for payment entitlements – at five hectares.

There will also be a new basic payment scheme – as opposed to the single payment system currently in place – introduced in 2015. Furthermore, 30% of this will be dependent on farmers meeting greening measures, which are aimed at encouraging agricultural practices beneficial for the climate and the environment.

But a number of important issues are still in the consultation stage – which closes on 28 November – and are yet to be decided. These include policies around rural development funding and the accessing of grants for farmers, as well as the way payments are divided up in relation to land.

Duncan Winspear, farm consultant at Smiths Gore, says: “Rural development funding can allow other rural businesses in addition to farmers to access grants, however the concern is that rural development schemes will be more bureaucratic than the basic payment, so a lot of the money available could get swallowed up in administration rather than benefiting farmers and others.

“People’s views on this will depend on their local circumstances, as although the uplands in our region face unique challenges due to the climate and remoteness of these areas, others in the lowland areas in the East of our region may argue that any decrease in their payments would be unfair.”

Also under consultation is the question of whether greening requirements can be met by different options that benefit the environment, rather than the ‘three crop’ rule for arable farms and having 5% of the farm as an ecological focus area, as currently suggested by Defra.

Winspear says: “The greening measures are the part of the CAP reform that could have the most impact on what happens at a practical level on farms in Yorkshire and the North East.

“If smaller arable farms have to grow three different crops each year then it could cause real logistical problems in terms of harvesting and storing grain, if currently they have only been growing one or two crops each year. The significant implications the new regulations could have on rural businesses are why it is important people respond to the Defra consultation.”

Smiths Gore is calling for the CAP reforms to be implemented in such a way that they do not place additional administrative burdens on farmers.

The firm also warns that as much money as possible from the English CAP allocation needs to reach producers rather than being spent on bureaucracy.

Winspear says:  “Farms in the North East and Yorkshire face a unique set of challenges, for example there are large areas that will be affected by changes to payment rates. In other areas of the country the uplands are less important so, unless people from our region make their voices heard, uplands issues may be ignored.”

The Defra consultation remains open until 28th November and be can be found at: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/communications/cap-consultation

Smiths Gore is a rural property consultancy of chartered surveyors which employs 25 people in Darlington and turns over £1.4m from its office in the town.

The firm, which this year celebrated the 150th anniversary of its Darlington office, acts for clients with total landholdings in excess of 134,000 acres. For more information visit www.smithsgore.co.uk

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