EU bans pesticide use on EFAs – What to do now!

This has come as a real blow to many farmers out there. Whilst I am not an agronomist and therefore not my area of specialty I strongly believe there are things that can be done to prepare your farm and business for this transition…

What has happened?

Last week (15th June 2017), MEPs voted to prevent the use of pesticides in Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) under new Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) rules. The new rules come into force in January next year (2018). As I’m sure you’re aware, to qualify for BPS, if you have more than 15 hectares of arable land, you must designate at least 5% of your land to EFA. The EFAs are cultivated to promote biodiversity by establishing field margins, hedgerows and buffer strips. Therefore, from next January, pesticide use will no longer be allowed on nitrogen-fixing crops, fallow, cover and catch crops that are counted as EFA. We are still waiting on the exact rules from the EU at this stage.

What can I do to protect my business going forwards?

The main thing here is not to panic and to get organised! If you fail to plan, you plan to fail (Benjamin Franklin). Here are some top tips on what you should be thinking about now:

  1. Do the calculations now, rather than rushing at the last minute, or worse, waiting until you have crops in the ground and realising you need to change what is in there
  2. There probably isn’t an alternative cropping plan but there are things to consider instead of using crops that need pesticides to hit your EFA requirement, these include considering: 

    Cover cropping where appropriate

    Field margins (out of CSS if you don’t want to reduce your payment)

    Hedges

    Buffer strips alongside watercourses

    Fallow if it compliments your rotation

  3. Get help if you need it, if this is something that phases you, speak to a professional to assist with your planning- not only will this help you with what you can do on your farm but they will be able to give you the most cost-effective way of making any necessary changes for you!

 

Where can I get more help?

I no longer work in farm business, but the team I left are very well equipped to help you with this! Contact Guy Banham at Berrys if you’d like to discuss your options going forwards- guy.banham@berrys.uk.com or 01536 532379 / 07971 917984

JP

@blondeagadvisor

 

Class Q PD Barns Update

I have just been having a look through the Wright Hassell Law & Land magazine which contains a really good article about Class Q- so I thought I would share it with you. Info below taken directly from the Wright Hassall site, article by Pritpal Singh Swarn and you can read it in full here: https://www.wrighthassall.co.uk/knowledge/legal-

You want to convert your barns to residential use? Not so fast…

A search for ‘barn conversions’ on Google reveals, perhaps unsurprisingly, that local planning authorities remain unconvinced of the merits of converting redundant agricultural buildings into residential units (Class Q). After permitted development rights were extended in 2014 to cover the conversion of farm buildings, it transpired that more than 50% of applications were refused prior approval because most failed the location sustainability test. Anxious to increase the amount of rural housing stock and conscious that applying the location test to farm buildings is illogical, the government issued revised guidance in 2015 clarifying that a proposed building conversion under Class Q should be judged on whether it is ‘impractical’ or ‘undesirable’. In other words, the location should not be a barrier to development unless the proposed site had either no, or very limited, access (impractical) or it was next to an intensive livestock unit or other ‘objectionable’ activity (undesirable).

‘Sustainable location’ test does not apply

In spite of this helpful clarification, LPAs have not shown any notable enthusiasm for increasing the number of prior approvals, primarily because most have not traditionally supported development in open countryside and it is perceived as a tool to circumvent planning policy. East Hertfordshire DC has to gone to great lengths to challenge the guidance in two cases after it refused prior approval for barn conversions on the grounds that both locations were impractical and undesirable. Both decisions were appealed and the court found that the council had not applied the guidance relating to location correctly and that the proposed conversions were, in fact, neither impractical nor undesirable.

…but the convertibility test does

Rather than relying on location criteria to bounce applications, some LPAs are carefully scrutinising the physical aspects of the building, in other words, does it have the necessary load bearing capability and can it be converted without substantial demolition and rebuilding: ‘building operations are allowed…only to the extent reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwelling house, and partial demolition to the extent reasonably necessary for carry out these building operations’. This has been tested in a case in Nottinghamshire where the farmer wanted to convert a steel-framed barn into a house. The case hinged on whether the ‘proposed conversion amounted to a rebuild’ as the barn was open on three sides. Although all the other criteria under Class Q were met, the planning inspector determined that the barn would need substantial rebuilding and thus did not fall within permitted development tolerance and would need full planning permission. The assessment of “substantial” is in the eye of the beholder and essentially a judgment call.   

Building must have had an agricultural use

Given the apparent reluctance of LPAs to approve the conversion of farm buildings, there is another potential pitfall for farmers selling an agricultural building as a development opportunity with Class Q consent. One of the eligibility criteria is that the building in question must have been used for agricultural purposes on or before 20 March 2013. Jill Scrivener, an agricultural planning consultant with Bourne Rural, warns that if a LPA discovers subsequently that the eligibility criteria was not met, it is perfectly possible that it might withdraw consent, particularly if there had been any controversy surrounding the site. If this occurs, the purchaser’s investment will be worthless and they may well seek damages from the seller. Of course, proving agricultural usage is not always easy relying as it does on either photographic or written records (which may not exist), or verbal confirmation. Any landowner with a potential development opportunity would be well advised to try and gather as much evidence as possible about the previous use of the building, not only to give the prospective purchaser certainty but to head off any retrospective enquiry.

Government mission to increase rural housing supply

The government’s 2016 Rural Planning Review has helped to inform its approach to the rural housing crisis. The summary of responses to the Review contains a number of questions relating to local housing needs in rural areas. These include the creation of another agricultural-to-residential use permitted development right to allow conversion of up to 750sqm, for a maximum of 5 new dwellings, each with a maximum floor space of 150sqm; and an extension of the existing Class Q permitted development right to increase the existing conversion threshold from 450sqm to 465sqm. Although these proposals will be welcomed by many farmers and landowners who have redundant buildings capable of conversion under Class Q, they and their advisers must be absolutely rigorous when determining whether or not they meet the eligibility criteria. In spite of central government encouragement that everything must be done to increase rural housing stock for rural workers, all the indications are that LPAs will stick to the letter of the law.

JP

@blondeagadvisor

Business Rates and Stables

Following on nicely from last week’s blog about Business Rates,the VOA have a document about Business Rates and StablesInformation below taken directly from the document…

The term business rates actually refers to non-domestic rates, which is a form of property tax payable on all property that is not classed as domestic. Domestic property is liable to council tax. Stables will be classed as non-domestic, and liable to non-domestic rates, unless:

  • They are used to stable horses that are worked on agricultural land for an agricultural purpose. Horses used for leisure purposes – commercially or otherwise – do not fall into this category. Hence their stables do not qualify as agricultural buildings, no matter where they are situated be it on a farm or not. Further details on the exemption of agricultural premises can be found under Schedule 5 to the Local Government Finance Act 1988.
  • They are considered to be domestic and come within the council tax band of the living accommodation. Stables are only likely to be included within the council tax band if they are sited within the domestic curtilage of that property and used for private purposes on a domestic scale appropriate to the house. In this respect, the domestic curtilage is usually considered to be the same as the garden area surrounding the house. Further details on this definition of domestic property can be found in section 66(1) of the Local Government Finance Act 1988.

 

This is a complex area and we consider each case on its own facts. For further information, you should contact your local valuation office.

The VOA has various guidance documents on equestrian properties, including:

Section 995: Riding Schools & Livery Stables: http://app.voa.gov.uk/corporate/publications/Manuals/RatingManual/RatingManualVolume5/sect995/b-rat-man-vol5-s995.html

Section 1006: Stables & Loose Boxes: http://app.voa.gov.uk/corporate/publications/Manuals/RatingManual/RatingManualVolume5/sect1006/b-rat-man-vol5-sec1006.html

JP

@bondeagadvisor

Business Rates – How to Check and Challenge your Rateable Value

Intro

Information below is taken from the gov website and you can read the full guidance here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-to-check-your-rateable-value-is-correct#history

There is a new business rates appeal process in England from 1 April 2017 known as check, challenge, appeal. The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) deals with checks and challenges, while the independent Valuation Tribunal for England handles appeals.

If any of the factual details about your property or land are incorrect, you (the owner, occupier or authorised agent) need to let the VOA know. Doing this through the VOA’s online service is known as a check. You can only do this if you have the right to, as the owner, occupier or their authorised agent.

You can also request a change to your valuation (which may affect your business rates bill), even if you don’t have any factual detail changes. This is called a challenge. If you do want to make a challenge, you will need to have completed a check first.

How to submit a check online

The service allows you to confirm details or tell the VOA about certain changes to your property. You’ll be asked what changes you want to tell the VOA about and you can choose from the following options:

  • confirm or change the information held
  • something external to the property has affected its value
  • the property needs to be split from others (into two or more properties)
  • the property needs to be merged with others (into one or more properties)
  • the property is no longer used for business or has been demolished
  • the property has been subject to a court decision

If you want to tell the VOA about more than one issue, you should select the main issue. You’ll have the chance to tell the VOA about the other changes in your supporting documents.

For example, your shop front is being affected by long-term roadworks and you’ve also added a floor to the property. You should select ‘tell the VOA about external factors affecting the property’ and you’ll be given the choice to tell the VOA about the additional floor later in the form.

If you want to add a property to the rating list, you should contact the VOA to discuss this with them.

Agents – You won’t be able to submit a check, or view detailed property data until you have been authorised to represent the owner or occupier.

After you submit a check

The VOA will review the details you send them and in most cases they’ll have enough information to review your check. However, in some cases they may need to contact you. If so, they will contact the person that submitted the check. If necessary, they’ll amend the rating list and provide you with written notification of the alteration.

If you’ve submitted a check on your property and are suffering from financial hardship, you should tell the VOA. The information that you provide may allow them to prioritise your case. You can do this by emailing ccaservice@voa.gsi.gov.uk or by calling 03000 501 501.

JP

@blondeagadvisor

 

 

 

Tree and hedgecutting rules for 2017

Information taken below from the Farm Advice Newsletter that you can read in full here: http://farmingadviceservice.org.uk/events/assets/Uploads/Newsletters/FAS-news-APR17final.pdf

Really good newsletter to sign up to!

A closed period that places a ban on cutting and trimming hedges and trees between 1 March and 31 August (inclusive) is a cross compliance requirement under GAEC 7a: Boundaries and GAEC 7c: Trees. While a closed period has always applied under cross compliance for hedgerow management during the bird-breeding season, this was extended during 2015 by one month (to cover the main chick-rearing season) and is also applicable to trees. If you are a Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) claimant, you must adhere to these requirements on eligible land being used for agriculture, which may include woodland (for example, when used for grazing) or you could receive a reduction in your payment.

You can apply to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) in writing for a derogation under the following circumstances, but must not act until you have received a response to your request:

  1. to enhance the environment, improve public or agricultural access, or for reasons relating to livestock or crop production;
  2. to cut or trim a tree in a hedgerow during the month of August for the purposes of sowing oil seed rape or temporary grassland during the same August.

The RPA can be contacted by email (ruralpayments@defra.gsi.gov.uk) or by post (Rural Payments Agency, PO Box 52 Worksop, S80 9FG). Please be aware that a derogation to cut a tree within a hedgerow would need to be considered under:

  1. GAEC 7c: Trees – with respect to the tree itself;
  2. GAEC 7a: Boundaries – with respect to the hedgerow that the tree is a part of. This mirrors the situation where, if a felling licence has been issued to fell trees in a hedge, permission will also be required under the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 if it is proposed to remove part of the hedgerow. It is advisable to apply early if you think that you will require a derogation from this requirement.
  3. Full details of the requirements can be found in ‘The guide to cross compliance in England 2017’.

JP

@blondeagadvisor

Requirement to inspect pesticide application equipment

Information taken below from the Farm Advice Newsletter that you can read in full here: http://farmingadviceservice.org.uk/events/assets/Uploads/Newsletters/FAS-news-APR17final.pdf

Really good newsletter to sign up to!

On 26 November 2016, it became a requirement that all in-use pesticide application equipment over 5 years old – with the exception of knapsack and handheld sprayers – must have passed inspection by the National Sprayer Testing Scheme (NSTS) within the last 5 years.

The NSTS is the only body designated to inspect and certify pesticide application equipment for use. Therefore, having equipment tested by an approved NSTS examiner is the only way to stay compliant. A list of approved examiners can be found on the NSTS website.

After 26 November 2016, equipment must pass an inspection every 5 years and then every 3 years from 26 November 2020. Equipment that has a ‘low scale of use’, such as granular applicators and boom sprayers less than 3 metres wide, must pass inspections at an interval of no more than 6 years.

A complete list of ‘low scale of use’ equipment can be found in Pesticides: UK national action plan, which will be updated regularly.

All pesticide application equipment must be calibrated on a regular basis.

Professional users of pesticides must, for at least 3 years, keep records of the products they use. At a minimum, the records must contain the name of the product, the time and the dose of application, the area and the crop where the product was used.

JP

@blondeagadvisor

Small Dairy Farmers Scheme

Applications for this scheme opened yesterday, you can find out more info here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/small-dairy-farmers-scheme

Deadline for applications: 31st May 2017! Bit more info on the scheme below…

What is the Small Dairy Farmers Scheme?

A fund of approximately £8.5 million has been made available to support small dairy farmers in England. The scheme will provide a one off payment to eligible farmers who choose to apply.

Who can apply?

You can apply for this scheme if both of the following apply:

  • you had an annual cows’ milk production of up to 1,000,000 litres (or equivalent in kilograms) during the period 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016
  • you are still active in cows’ milk production.

This scheme is for producers in England only. However, if you are a cross-border farmer in Wales or Scotland, you may apply if the majority of your land is based in England and you received your Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) 2016 payment from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).

To convert from kilograms to litres, you should divide kilograms by the conversion rate of 1.03.

How and when to apply

To apply, fill in a Small Dairy Farmers Scheme application form (PDF, 302KB, 2 pages) and send it to RPA.

Applications must be received by RPA by midnight on 31 May 2017. Applications received after this date will be rejected.

Wholesale producers of cows’ milk

You will be asked to provide the following information on your application:

  • the total volume of cows’ milk delivered to first purchasers (in litres or kilograms) during the period 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016
  • details of your purchaser(s) in April 2017.

You must send proof showing your total cows’ milk deliveries to first purchasers during the period 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016. Proof could be a copy of your annual production statement or individual monthly production statements.

Direct sellers of cows’ milk or milk products

If you sold cows’ milk or milk products directly, you will be asked to provide the following information on your application:

  • the total volume of cows’ milk (in litres or kilograms) produced during the period 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016, either for sale directly to the public or used to make products for sale directly to the public.

You must send proof of the figure you have sent to RPA for the volume of cows’ milk used for direct sales. Please provide a copy of your Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) levy invoice. Additional proof could be production records, sales invoice/sales records, milk/milk product stock records.

You must also send proof that you are still active in cows’ milk production in April 2017. Proof could be monthly milk statements, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) returns, stock records, sales invoices or evidence from the national milk recording system.

If you are a wholesale producer and a direct seller of cows’ milk, you will need to provide both sets of information and proofs.

Payments

You must be registered on Rural Payments before RPA can make a payment to you.

Payments will be capped at 500,000 litres of cows’ milk production.

The rate of payment will be calculated once all applications are received. It should be published on GOV.UK in mid-June 2017.

RPA will aim to make payments to you by the end of July 2017, directly to the bank account details RPA holds. If your bank details have changed recently, contact the RPA helpline on 03000 200 301.

Inspections

RPA may need to check the information you have provided before payment is made.

JP

@blondeagadvisor