Form Filling and the Single Payment Scheme

Hands up who likes filling in forms? April / May is full of it for businesses. To start with there are the usual year end Tax Returns. I always get anxious when dealing with statutory bodies that make a thing of penalties being imposed if deadlines are missed; or that errors might lead to inspections. At the moment however, for farm businesses, top spot goes to the Single Payment Scheme ( SPS ) through which European farm subsidies are paid to English farmers. I referred to this last year.

For reasons known only to themselves ( though the official reason seems to be that the EU require it ) the Rural Land Registry, which is a subdivision of the Rural Payments Agency which is itself part of DEFRA,  undertook a re-mapping exercise of English farms over the second half of 2009 using up to date satellite images. Given that we had 3 years of aggravation and mistakes involved in the initial mapping exercise in 2003 – 2006 you would think that this would be simple and involve minor adjustments only. But no!

Refined satellite imaging means that the maps produced only show boundaries clearly defined on the ground by hedges, ditches and ‘visible’ fences for instance. Where field edges are not picked up by satellite, the maps don’t show them, including those between different ownerships, and this has caused all sorts of confusion. Our first revision was returned to us in January 2010 and I returned two maps of 3 with some very minor adjustments. We still have not seen the second draft . . .  and yet we are obliged to return our SPS forms by 17th May based on those maps, or suffer penalties. We are fortunate in that we can get most, if not all,, our information on the SPS form even though we do not have the RLR maps because the changes were small and we can ‘excavate’ the basic information required from other sources. On 24th April about 6,000 farmers had yet to receive their finalized maps it appears. Some are in despair.

Scotland and Wales opted for a simpler scheme when this all kicked off early in the decade. The National Farmer’s Union have estimated that the RPA spends about £1,700 to administer the scheme for each farm in England. In Scotland and Wales that figure is £250.

I am writing on May 6th, the day of the election. There has been much comment on the weakness or strength of the predicted outcome of a hung parliament. When you read this the election will be a distant memory though the implications may still be rumbling on.

To give you an idea of the ( lack of ) significance of farming in the electoral sense, the various manifestos place it in the natural environment or green economy sections rather than alongside engineering and manufacturing. Yet in terms of the future, the security of food supply together with affordability is crucial to whoever is in government and however sophisticated our society is. The ash cloud chaos showed how precarious our global interdependence is.

It’s not just in Westminster where there is a cold wind blowing. Spring was late starting and is late finishing. Some of our trees are hardly in leaf yet ( mid May ) and we are fortunate that our wheat crops are only about a week behind in their development. This may not seem a lot, but it does mean that they will have a shorter time to realise yield potential. Some crops elsewhere are two weeks behind. Oil seed rape especially seems to have been affected adversely by the late frost, with flowers dropping quickly leading to some blind (empty) pod sites which will reduce harvest yield. Conversely nitrogen and chemical applications are up to date to make sure that the crop has the required support when it needs it, especially as it is quite likely we will have another dry spell before long.

The Common Agricultural Policy ( CAP ) of the EU is due for reform in 2013. The new commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, is Romanian with French connections and seems to have a good grasp of these issues. Rather than the CAP being the elephant in the room it may come to be seen as the bedrock of the EU. That is of course if the EU survives the current crisis in Greece and possibly beyond.

Global financial crisis, volcanic ash clouds, climate change on a macro scale together with weather, health and family issues on a small scale remind us sharply that personal and community values of integrity, honesty, hope and unselfishness are what really matters. The politicians have understood this in the face of the election. Long may that continue!

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