"The thing that makes me particularly annoyed about the exercise is the way that all the comment in the media explains that farmers are now to be paid for providing some kind of environmental benefit. Most people believe that farmers are to be paid to keep trees and hedges and so on. The single farm payment scheme does the opposite."
The Single Farm Payment Scheme has been such a cock-up. One would have thought that DEFRA had never sent out an IACS form before. There were not even instructions where to return the form.
After days of wrestling with maps (another tale of unbelievable incompetence) and after many frustrating attempts to get advice on the esoteric distinctions decreed by the madmen who devised the form, the papers from the original package were well scattered. (Why on earth, for example, am I asked if I have any visible rights of way on my holding? What is a visible right of way? And what is the significance? According to the advice given on the advice lines I could have answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with equal conviction – so the answers to the question will be meaningless).
Amid the trail of papers I found an envelope addressed to a set of initials in Cumbria. Without any guidance from the form and other documents, I rang the advice line to find out if it was indeed the correct return envelope – to be told that I should return it to an office in Newcastle: this was the intended destination of the form - but arrangements had been made to allow me to return it to a more local office if I wanted. In my case, I was told, this office was in Carlisle. I pointed out that for me in Devon, Carlisle and Newcastle were about equally inaccessible!
I posted my form to Newcastle. Afterwards I heard that one of my neighbours (who used to be on the MAFF regional advisory panel) had sent his form back in the Carlisle envelope. Days passed and he had not heard that it had been received. Eventually he telephoned to ask. The operator enquired to which address he had sent it. He told them ‘Carlisle’. “Why did you send it there?” he was asked!
The thing that makes me particularly annoyed about the exercise is the way that all the comment in the media explains that farmers are now to be paid for providing some kind of environmental benefit. Most people believe that farmers are to be paid to keep trees and hedges and so on. The single farm payment scheme does the opposite. It actually pays farmers for the land they keep in ‘good agricultural condition’. As a livestock farmer, the area of ‘forage’ I had was not critical, between fairly broad parameters – since I was not paid for the forage area itself. The few subsidies I could claim were for the animals I kept. So if some rocky outcrops were allowed to grow gorse bushes (providing habitat for the chats and warblers) and there was a patch of trees that the cattle or sheep could wander through, it didn’t matter financially to me.
Now I am to be paid for the forage area. Area of bushes that prevent grazing must be deducted. If I want to claim for grazed woodland, or grazed orchard, I must calculate and deduct the area of the tree trunks!
The instructions decree that the area of any farm ponds must be excluded. The inference is that I should cut down any trees and bushes and drain those inconvenient farm ponds…
Staggeringly, the land use categories do not include a land use of ‘grazed woodland’, nor do they include ‘orchard’ grazed or otherwise. Lots of farms in England have these things; they produce crops and they seem to be quite popular with the public as ‘environmental benefits’. These omissions are even more baffling when the land use categories in the DEFRA list, prepared for England, do include ‘almonds’, ‘pistachios’ and ‘walnuts’!
Presumably subsidies are payable for these. Why no Kentish cobnuts or, for that matter, apples, pears, cherries? Why are these exclude as ‘permanent crops’ when almonds, pistachios and walnuts also grown on trees in orchard are apparently not excluded.
And ‘permanent pasture’ is not apparently a permanent crop. Why is an apple orchard excluded as ‘permanent’ when a chainsaw and a JCB can clear it in short order?