September Professional Ponderings
Well, what a challenging month August was. For the arable farmers amongst you, you will no doubt be glad to see the back of what was a very unsettled month, which has no doubt affected the quality of crops harvested nearer to the end of August. Conversely, the livestock farmers amongst you are likely to be happy with the plentiful supply of grass. Generally speaking, current Commodity prices means that short-term farming prospects are positive and this is evidenced by the fact that some farmers are still tendering in excess of £200 per acre for out and out cereal growing land in the Midlands.
I am pleased to see this optimism as most other industries appear to be painting a very gloomy picture in the wake of unproductive Brexit talks. I hope that those entering in to new agreements have taken heed of Andrew Meikle’s advice of ensuring that the new agreements are ‘Brexit-proof’, in that they include some form of wriggle room to allow the Tenant to end the tenancy, should farming subsidies be substantially decreased, as I cannot see how current rents can be justified if £70 or £80 an acre is wiped off the bottom line!
Last week, I was contacted by a client who had been approached by the RPA with a view to undertaking an NVZ inspection; this is the third year in a row for him! The RPA tend to do NVZ inspections in bulk, so you may have the misfortune of an inspection, so perhaps now is the time to update your NVZ records. As a minimum, you should have:
- Recorded your farm size.
- Records of livestock numbers for the preceding year up to 30th April.
- Recorded any imports or exports of manure or slurry on or off your farm.
- Records of dates and locations of any field sites used for the storage of farmyard manure.
- Calculated the manure storage capacity for your farm.
- Completed Nmax calculations for your farm.
In addition, you should ensure that Agronomic Field Records are stored in a safe place, so these are easily found during an inspection.
The end of September sees the deadline for submitting Countryside Stewardship: Mid-Tier Applications; the deadline for requesting an application pack was at the end of July, so if you haven’t already requested a pack, then I’m afraid you are too late! We will be assisting clients with applications, but it would be remiss of me not to point out that there is potentially free advice and training available to you via the Catchment Sensitive Farming Initiative. Advice is only available to those in high priority areas. You can find out whether you are in a priority area by contacting your local Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer. The Catchment Sensitive Farming Initiative supports farmers applying for Countryside Stewardships to improve water quality and bio-diversity, and to reduce flood risk. Funding to improve water quality is now available through the Countryside Stewardship: Mid-Tier Application process. Some Countryside Stewardship options/items require written support from a Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer (CSFO) as part of an application’s evidence requirement. Endorsement of a Mid-Tier application by a CSFO will increase the chance of success for holdings targeted for water quality outcomes. Therefore, if you are planning on submitting an application, then your first port of call should be the Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer, who will usually be glad to meet with you on farm to discuss your intentions and give you some pointers. Once you have a rough idea of the content of your application, then we can assist you with putting that together in the way that stands you with the best chance of a successful application. As ever, if you require any advice in this regard, then please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Agricultural Team.
You are probably aware that in June 2017, Members of the European Parliament voted to ban the use of Plant Production Products (PPPs) on crops used to satisfy the Greening requirements of Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs). As such, farmers who grow legumes as Nitrogen Fixing Crops for an Ecological Focus Area will be most affected. The full details of the ban have not yet been decided, however, it is expected that it will extend to all Nitrogen Fixing Crops, Fallow, Cover, and Catch Crops which are included as an EFA. It is not clear whether the ban will be enforced for the whole growing period, or just from the 1st January 2018 (i.e, the new Scheme Year). The ban is anticipated to affect 2018 Basic Payment Scheme claims, so farmers are advised to consider if they wish to continue growing Nitrogen Fixing Crops to claim as an EFA, as they will likely have to do so without the use of sprays. As an alternative, EFA options include Buffer Strips, Fallow and Hedgerow Management. Although next year’s application deadline is four months away, clearly, this may have some effect on your cropping plan over the coming weeks, so I urge you to take a few hours on a rainy day to consider what alternative options you might use, if you do not intend to continue to grow Nitrogen Fixing Crops.
Over the past few days, I have received a number of emails from the Rural Payments Agency concerning clients’ Basic Payment Scheme Applications 2017; specifically “changes” to the claim. These emails appear to be acknowledging receipt of Continuation Booklets that have accompanied an online claim. The email attaches tables showing changes. If you receive such an email, then it would be prudent to check that the tables correlate with your application. If they do not, then you should contact the RPA as soon as possible to notify them of any discrepancies.
Whilst we are on the subject, in last month’s ponderings Andrew made reference to delays concerning 2016 payments. I am afraid the situation hasn’t improved, but I do have a little bit more detail for you. In July, the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers carried out a survey regarding ongoing BPS issues in England. 146 responses were received, representing 11,604 BPS claimants. A report summarising the issues was shared with the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, MP, and the RPA’s CEO Paul Caldwell. In summary, there are potentially 11,180 claimants (13% of the total BPS claimant population) with an incorrect payment, and 2,683 (24%) of those have been through the Post- Payment Adjustment (PPA), but their payment is still incorrect. There are potentially 6,880 claimants (8% of the total BPS claimant population) with an incorrect BPS 2015 payment, and 1,788 (26%) of those have been through PPA, but their payment is still incorrect. In total, there may be 18,016 correct BPS 2016 and 2015 payments with 13,589 yet to go through PPA, and 4,471 having been through PPA, but their payment is still incorrect, so they need to be re-worked. There may be 18,060 BPS claimants with outstanding mapping issues. The number of mapping issues in this survey has more than doubled from a previous survey undertaken in February 2017. The RPAs communication with people about BPS 2016 and 2015 payment queries seems to have been exceptionally poor, with only 10% of payment query forms receiving a response from the RPA. As you can see, the RPA have significant numbers of under-paid claims.
We will be at the Gransden Show on the 30th September, and we hope to see plenty of faces, ‘new and old’, for light refreshments.
Last month, Andrew reported the “changing of the Bletsoe’s placement student guard”, and I am pleased to report that Grace has settled in well to the Agricultural Team, and is fast becoming an integral member of the team. No doubt, some of you will have seen her in the Market, mucking in with livestock duties. I am pleased to report that Daisy Miles will be re-joining Bletsoes at the beginning of September, having already spent a year with the firm as a Placement Student. Daisy recently graduated from Harper Adams University with a 2:1 and hopes to sit her professional exams in the Autumn of 2018, and therefore she will no doubt be very closely attached to her desk, but I am sure she will show her face periodically in the Market, so be sure to say hello if you see her.
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