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Whilst there are an estimated 6% of 2017 Basic Payment Scheme claims still awaiting payment, this week the Rural Payments Agency opened the application window for the 2018 Basic Payment Scheme with a deadline of 15th May 2018.

As this is the 4th year of the scheme, most will be familiar with the scheme rules, however, there are some changes to the rules which arable businesses need to be aware of when preparing for their claim.  The scheme rules for 2018 were published on 14th March and are available on the RPA website.  The main changes affecting businesses in our region are:

·         A complete ban on the use of Plant Protection Products (PPP)s on Ecological Focus Area (EFA) Fallow Land, EFA Catch & Cover Crops and EFA Nitrogen Fixing Crops.

·         The EFA option for buffer strips is extended to field margins.

·         EFA Catch Crops must be in place from 20th August 2018 to 14th October 2018.

Applicants with arable land more than 30ha require 5% of the land to be EFA.  Many to date have used field beans or vining peas to meet this requirement; with the ban on PPPs this is no longer appropriate in most cases. Many will be opting for the field margin buffer strip option to meet the EFA requirement as an alternative next to hedges.  They must be at least 1 meter wide and can be part of the 2 meter cross compliance buffer strip, however where the field boundary is a hedge, the 1 meter minimum width must be measured from the edge of the hedge canopy for the full scheme year.  In this case 1 linear meter of buffer strip with count as 9m2 of EFA.

The fallow land period for EFA runs from the 1st January to 30th June.  Most activities within this period are prohibited except for drainage work, establishing mixes covered under an agri-environment scheme or topping green cover.  You are not able to control blackgrass for example during the fallow period by spraying or cultivation.

Finally, most will be aware that the RPA have been undertaking a remapping exercise.  You would be well advised to check the most recent maps on the RPA system.  The RPA have also introduced a new hedge layer onto the maps, these will need careful checking and if you need to make amendments to the assumptions made by the RPA as to the location of hedges especially if you’re are planning to use them as part of your EFA, a RLE1 will need to be submitted.