In order to claim under the Basic Payment Scheme for 2017 an application must be submitted by May 2017. Some of the main rules in respect to this new scheme are summarised below:

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Active Farmers

To claim you must be both a ‘farmer’ and an ‘active farmer’. To qualify as a ‘farmer’ you must either produce, rear or grow agricultural products or simply keep land clear of dense scrub.

You automatically qualify as an ‘active farmer’ in 2015 if your 2014 SPS claim was worth £3,886.50 or less. If you did not make a claim the RPA base this test on the eligible land you have in 2015 and if your 2014 payment would have been £3,886.50 or less, you also qualified but must call the RPA to check this.

Farmers will also automatically qualify if the business does not operate an airport, railway services, waterworks, real estate services or permanent sport or recreational grounds. If you do operate one of these activities you will still qualify as an ‘active farmer’ if any of the following apply:

  1. You have 36 hectares or more of eligible land
  2. Your total agricultural receipts were at least 40% of your total receipts in the last financial year.
  3. In the most recent financial year the value of your SPS claim was at least 5% of your total non-agricultural receipts.

In the case of the latter two exemptions an accountant had to complete an ‘Accountant Certificate – Active Farmer Status’ which had to be sent to the RPA by 15th June in order to qualify.

Land ‘at your disposal’

To apply for BPS you must have at least 5 hectares of eligible land ‘at your disposal’ on 15th May 2017. If inspected you may need to provide evidence that that the land is ‘at your disposal’, e.g. a written tenancy agreement.

The land must be eligible for the whole of the calendar year.

All of your agricultural land (arable, permanent grassland & permanent crops) and any land in RDPE schemes must be declared on your application and mapped correctly online.

Ineligible features

The area of certain features must be deducted from the eligible area. The full list is in the BPS guidance, however the main changes from last year are outlined below:

  1. Only hedges less than 20 metres in length that are wider than 2 metres from the centre are ineligible.
  2. Hedges longer than 20 metres are eligible whatever the width.
  3. Land parcels which contain solar panels are ineligible. If they are fenced off the rest of the field is eligible.
  4. Woodland is only ineligible if it prevents the growth of a vegetative under-story

Entitlements

If you declare fewer hectares of eligible land on your 2017 BPS application than you have entitlements, those excess entitlements will not be activated. You must activate all of your entitlements in a single application once every 2 years. Rotating is no longer permitted.

Entitlements will be able to be transferred by sale/gift or lease to ‘active farmers’ using the online system. The deadline for transfers in 2017 is the 15th May.

Greening

Permanent Grassland – Permanent Grassland covered by the Wild Birds &/or Habitats Directive (Natura 2000) cannot be ploughed up.

Crop Diversification – If you have 10 to 30 hectares of arable land (defined as land cultivated for crop production, fallow & temporary grassland) you must grow 2 different crops with one not comprising more than 75% of the arable land. If you have over 30 hectares of arable land you must grow 3 different crops with one no comprising more than 75% and two combined not more than 95% of the arable land.

Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) – If you have more than 15 hectares of arable land you must have the equivalent of 5% of the arable area as EFA. The following EFA options are available:

  1. Fallow, i.e. no crop production or grazing from 1st January to 30th June
  2. Hedges with one side adjacent to arable land
  3. Buffer strips that are next to arable land and a watercourse, or on a slope parallel with a watercourse, with arable land on either side
  4. Nitrogen fixing crops that are present from 1st May to 30th June
  5. Catch crops established by 31st Aug and retained until 1st October and cover crops established by 1st October and retained until 15th January

The maximum penalty for noncompliance with the greening rules is 30% of the total claim, or individually the maximum penalty for noncompliance with either crop diversification or ecological focus areas is 15% of the total claim.

‘New’ and ‘Young’ farmers

‘New’ and ‘young’ farmers may apply for BPS entitlements from the national reserve by 15th June.

New farmers must be at least 18 years of age, must be in ‘control’ (have more than 50% of the shares and votes) of the farm business, their business must have started ‘agricultural activity’ in 2013 or later and they mustn’t have carried out any farming in the previous 5 years in their own right.

Young farmers must be between the age of 18 and 40, must be in ‘control’ of the farm business and must have set up or taken ‘control’ of the business for the first time on 1st January 2010 or later.

In order to prove one’s status as a ‘new’ or ‘young’ farmer evidence of the above must be checked by an independent solicitor who must fill in a ‘certification form’ which must be received by the RPA by 15th May.

In addition to entitlements young farmers can apply for a top up payment worth up to 25% of the average value of their entitlements on up to 90 hectares. This can be applied for each year for a maximum of 5 years after the year they started or took ‘control’ of the business.