FARMERS are being advised to start the process of measuring and mapping any features on their land that they intend to use to meet their 2018 Ecological Focus Areas obligations.

To avoid falling foul of greening rule changes, growers need to start thinking about how they will complete their 2018 Basic Payment Scheme applications now, rather than leave it until the final few weeks before the May 15 deadline, according to the head of Strutt and Parker’s farming consultancy in Scotland, Mary Munro.

“The changes around the ban on the use of plant protection products on nitrogen fixing crops and fallow have been well publicised,” said Ms Munro. “However, SGRPID has recently confirmed some additional changes to greening rules which growers will also need to consider.

“The removal of the 30ha limit for crop diversity and EFAs will certainly help simplify life for a good number of producers. The introduction of hedges for EFA will also be welcome, although they are not always straightforward. In terms of weighting, each side of the hedge is worth 5m2 per metre of hedge – so if a farmer is able to claim both sides of the hedge then 1000m of hedge equates to 1ha of EFA," she explained.

"Hedges used as EFA must be located on, or within five metres of, arable land, or contiguous to a claimed EFA feature, and of a continuous length of more than 20m. Gaps of up to 20m are counted as part of the hedge.”

She added: “There are also changes in the rules regarding drainage work on fallow, and these might be very relevant in the aftermath of melting snow.

“However, it is anticipated that many farmers will be looking to use buffer strips, field margins, and hedges in order to meet their EFA requirement. It is vital that farmers are clear on the eligibility of each of the different options and measure them correctly, or they could face penalties when their BPS claim is processed," she warned.

“Checking the eligibility of hedges may be a challenge if they are very gappy. The GAEC area beside the hedge can be used in addition as a field margin. It is best to start the exercise sooner rather than later and to consider how the different options can be mixed to best effect.

“A key message is that most farms should find it fairly straightforward to meet their EFA obligation if they have a healthy balance of hedges, buffer strips and field margins," she stressed.