Farmers could be forced to reinstate permanent pasture - RPA

THE Rural Payment Agency (RPA) has warned it might have to force farmers in England to return land back to permanent pasture if the current decline in this category of land continues.

The area of farmland given over to permanent has been falling in recent in England – and elsewhere in Europe – on the back of rising arable prices and, anecdotally, fears among some farmers about the proposed Commission’s Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms.

The RPA is required under EU legislation to maintain the level of permanent pasture in England.

If the ratio of permanent pasture to total agricultural area decreases by more than 10 per cent from a reference period, the agency is ‘obliged to require all farmers who ploughed up permanent pasture in the prior 24 months to reconvert land back to permanent pasture’. This obligation is expected to continue even after CAP Reform.

An agency spokesman said that, while the current area was not yet close to the ‘trigger point’ it is moving in the wrong direction.

He warned that the agency may have to pre-emptively introduce measures to halt the decline’, possibly through cross compliance, to prevent the decline in permanent pasture reaching the formal 10 per cent cut off.

While there are various factors contributing to the decline, the RPA also believes the true level of permanent pasture may be under-recorded on Single Payment applications, which is the basis for the evidence it presents to the European Commission on the subject. 

The spokesman said: “We urge farmers to use the correct land use code for permanent pasture to help to reduce the chances of us having to introduce a new cross compliance requirement in England.”

NFU president Peter Kendall said the true extent of the problem was hard to gauge. But he attributed the fall in permanent pasture levels to a combination of a ‘reasonably good’ arable prices over the past few years and the CAP reform proposal to make the retention of permanent pasture a condition of receiving the greening element of future direct payments.

He said some people were worried they could be ‘locked out’ of arable cropping by the CAP requirement, if they are compelled to retain permanent pasture when the new scheme comes in, probably in 2015. 

“We understand the importance of protecting biodiversity rich grassland but we want sensible rules around this, not completely inflexible ones,” he said, adding that there are already ‘strong environmental impact assessments and rules’ around the conversion of grassland.

He added: “Ultimately, farmers have to do what’s right for the business.”

RPA advice on recording pasture on SPS forms:

  • Temporary grass land use codes should be changed to a permanent pasture code once the land has been down to grass or herbaceous forage on six consecutive SPS applications. 
  • This applies even if the grass has been reseeded during this time.
  • Land does not have to be grazed to be considered to be permanent pasture.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Sir, farmers ' forced " to reinstate pasture, I thought this was England we were living in not Russia, this is getting out of hand seriously.

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  • Has no one noticed how many dairy and livestock farmers have gone in the last 10 years - hence a main reason why permanent pasture has been ploughed up ? So much for statistics !!

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  • Such nonsense! Time to get us out of Europe. Why should we allow ourselves to be dictated to by this corrupt mob who have nothing better to do with their time than dream up more restrictive practices to reduce food production, while half the world goes to bed hungry every night?

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