I flirted briefly with the temptation not to mention Brexit but soon realised that such an ambition was doomed to failure from the outset.
Regardless of where you stand on the subject, Brexit will loom over us for some considerable time hence – and we’re still only at the phoney war stage. The CLA and NFU, among others, are pushing for farming to be placed centre stage in the EU exit negotiations, anxious to secure the future of British farming in the long term. The unexpected elevation of Donald Trump to the US presidency has introduced another level of complexity given his campaign commitments to erect trade barriers which will, if implemented, certainly impact British agriculture. This story is guaranteed to run and run.
We’re living in a period of prolonged uncertainty and volatility. Currency fluctuations are not helping: they affect not only the value of BPS but also imports and exports, making budgets more difficult to balance and profits less assured. However, the prospect of reversing some EU decisions such as the ban on GM crops and the refusal to grant long term authorisation for the use of glyphosate will be welcome in many quarters. Furthermore, the clear message from the electorate that free movement of people is unacceptable will be difficult to balance with the need for many farmers to use migrant labour. It is also unlikely that we will see a bonfire of EU regulations; many will be retained in UK law as future trading arrangements, not only with Europe but also with other trading blocs, will require the retention of certain standards.
Aside from Brexit, we look at a number of topical matters including the importance of keeping proper records of all agreements; what can cause a licence to morph unintentionally into a tenancy; and another reminder that succession planning is important.
Greening simplification not so simple
Despite a commitment by EU farm commissioner, Phil Hogan, to simplify the CAP greening rules, some of the proposals are being resisted by 18 member states, including the UK, which have signed a joint statement opposing three in particular. One of the most controversial is the proposal to ban the use of pesticides on catch-crop and nitrogen-fixing crops grown in Ecological Focus Area. According to research carried out earlier this year, most farmers have opted for cultivation (rather than concentrate on hedges, trees, ponds, ditches, stone walls and other permanent features) meaning that a pesticide ban would severely affect production. The other proposals to which the group object include extending the minimum fallow period from 6 to 9 months, and the introduction of an obligatory 10-week period for catch crops.
Glyphosate use approved for further 18 months
In June this year, the EU authorised the continued use of glyphosate for another 18 months, pending further scientific study. The extension followed the failure of member states to vote conclusively in favour of licensing glyphosate use for a longer period (the NFU campaigned for a 15-year licence). As a result the European Commission made a decision based on advice from the European Food Safety Executive which had found no evidence of the chemical posing a risk to human health providing it was used correctly. The delay over relicensing glyphosate is believed to have contributed to the large pro-Brexit vote among the UK farming community.
Countryside Stewardship grants
Having confirmed that stewardship grants made in the spring would be honoured through to their conclusion, the Treasury announced that those agri environment agreements signed on or after 23 November will be honoured after the UK has left the EU until the scheme ends. Nonetheless, agreement holders must abide by the record-keeping requirements which are more onerous than those imposed by the ELS and HLS. The more detailed records will be used to check that the conditions of the scheme have been met and must be kept for up to seven years after the agreement has expired.
Changes to broadband voucher scheme
The Better Broadband Scheme run by the government agency, Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK, will subsidise those with dial-up broadband connections of less than 2mbps, or no broadband, to get connected if there is no affordable broadband service available (an affordable service is defined as one costing no more than £400 a year including installation, equipment and the monthly fee). The subsidy will only cover installation and not the monthly fee. The scheme runs until the end of 2017 and only applies if superfast broadband is not due to be delivered to the area within six months.
Tractor driver fined for not pulling over
A tractor driver in Somerset was fined £190 (and three points on his licence) for not pulling over to allow traffic behind him to pass. The police charged him with ‘driving without reasonable consideration for other road users’. Driving at 25mph on a main road, he caused a tailback of over 50 cars, of which he maintained he was unaware due to a lorry blocking his sight lines.
Agricultural fatalities show small decline
Despite the ‘Yellow Wellies’ campaign by the Farm Safety Foundation (‘Who would fill your boots?’), the latest figures released by The Health & Safety Executive continue to make depressing reading. In 2015/16 there were 29 farming-related fatalities (down from 33 in the previous year) suggesting that basic safety precautions are still not being taken. The most common accidents are those involving machinery, slurry pits, working at height, and livestock. One of the major problems is that farmers, many of whom work alone, are under considerable pressure to complete tasks and will cut corners without fully considering the potentially life-changing implications.
A story, first reported by Farmers’ Weekly, may give dairy farmers a boost. In a reversal of the current trend of dropping milk prices, several farms have successfully started to sell milk directly to the public as a premium product, enabling them to charge around £1 per litre. Some farms, such as Belvoir Ridge Creamery in Leicestershire, have installed milk vending machines which sell both pasteurised and raw milk. However, this route does involve upfront investment in vending equipment and the need to comply with additional environmental health requirements including a commitment to FSA raw milk testing, among other requirements.
Cornish farmer fined for slurry pollution
The Environment Agency prosecuted a Cornish farmer for allowing slurry to leak from a pipe and pollute the Tywardeath stream, causing the death of hundreds of fish. He was fined £675 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £8,214 after he pleaded guilty at Truro Magistrates' Court. Approximately 50,000 gallons of slurry leaked from the lagoon, polluting the stream and a nearby beach. The moral of the story is to maintain slurry lagoons and all related equipment and piping regularly.
National Minimum Wage:
Since 1 October 2016, national minimum wage rates are as follows:
- Aged 21 and over - £6.95 per hour (up from £6.70)
- Aged 18-20 - £5.55 per hour (up from £5.30)
- Aged 16-17 - £4.00 per hour (up from £3.87)
- Apprentices under 19, or over 19 and in the first year of the apprenticeship - £3.40 per hour (up from £3.30)
- The National Living Wage, remains at £7.20 per hour.
The National Minimum Wage rate will change every April starting April 2017.