So another May is upon us. It was Dad’s favourite month. “The growing month,” he used to call it, “when the farm looks at its best.”
It’s when a growing wheat crop from the perspective of the roadside will still hide a multitude of sins such as septoria or blackgrass. To add to this verdant beauty that teases us with the promises of a bountiful harvest, the oilseed rape also looks a blaze of yellow. We haven’t had a good OSR year for some time on this farm. Hopefully harvest 2018 will turn that tide.
Of course, in modern farming times May isn’t just about listening to the corn grow and smelling OSR pollen, it’s also about proper work, like form-filling. May 15th is not only the final BPS application day, it’s also Countryside Stewardship payment application cut off. Neither have been without their challenges that make me very prone to bad language.
It seems beyond ridiculous that I am applying for next year’s Countryside Stewardship payment when I haven’t received last year’s. What’s excruciating here is that there seems to be little legal recourse for those left waiting for Natural England to fulfil their part of the bargain by paying up when they implied they would. Natural justice demands that going forward these agreements have dates in them that give claimants proper rights of redress.
And just as the blood pressure was stabilising, then there was ‘hedge-gate’ where I spent a good deal of head scratching trying to work out why the RPA had classified runs of hedge as ‘not hedge’. We have some good stretches of hedge on this farm that I’m quite proud of to the point that I almost take personal offence at the RPA declaring it’s not good enough to qualify as a hedge in their eyes.
You do worry that those NGOs who have the line ‘the farmers have taken out all the hedges’ as their motto, might seize on these bizarrely wrong reports of suddenly invisible hedges as further proof of farming misdeeds. This thought occurred to me when I was wondering if I should fill in a sheath of RLE1 forms in order to win back my hedges their rightful recognition.
As an aside, I can report that my neighbour calls RLE1 forms, ‘WTF forms’ as in ‘WTF have the RPA done to my maps now?’ In the end I declined the RLE1 task partly because I have a dislike of filling in seemingly pointless forms with the resulting paperwork ping-pong with the RPA and partly because I could find my EFA elsewhere without having to bother.
My only worry now is I receive an inspection where I have to bite my lip when the inspector says, “did you know your maps weren’t quite correct Mr Smith? For some reason you’ve got perfectly good hedges that aren’t on your map.” At that point I’ll have to practice a courteous reply along the lines of, “aren’t they? Well isn’t that strange? Did you also notice the electric fence that the RLR classifies as a field splitting continuation of the B1036?”
Of course, the current thinking is that by the time the next World Cup in Qatar comes around in 2022 then all this BPS baloney might be a thing of the past. We are to be lead to a world free of support payments and their accompanying paper-based imbroglio.
Personally, I’m not so sure this will be the outcome, at least in terms of the bureaucracy if not the money. If Mr Gove succeeds in his plans to have our national agricultural policy mainly based around environmental payments, possibly for things like hedges, then he is going to need an RLR that tells the truth. Let’s be clear, he hasn’t got one now. Defra and its agencies would do well to invest in getting the RLR fit for purpose so everyone has confidence in it. Sometimes in my less lucid moments I think the thing I’m most looking forward to about Brexit is the end of the RLE1 form even if by then they are officially called ‘WTF forms.’
Guy Smith grows 500ha of combinable crops on the north east Essex coast. @EssexPeasant