As the soil dries and warms up, the jobs begin to stack up. We are torn between putting on the first application of fertiliser, harrowing and rolling grass fields, applying herbicides and fungicides to arable crops, or spraying off over wintered stubble in order to prepare the seed bed for spring sowing.
I generally rather enjoy reading the Farmers Weekly; it is rare that an article or columnist raises my blood pressure. However this weekend it is surprising that I have not ended up at A & E with cardiac arrest! Page after page matters were raised which demonstrated that instead of red tape and bureaucracy being reduced for farmers and landowners, in truth it is getting worse, much worse.
First off the matter of the chaos at the Rural Payments Agency was highlighted. Having tried in vain to log my own application on line, for the Single Farm Payment application only last week, I was still bruised by the experience. Having spent several hours in vain trying to log the information, I eventually gave up the will to live, let alone waste any more time.
Having registered the farm details with holding numbers, customer numbers, passwords and everything else, many weeks ago, it seemed a good time to get the application completed.
However the FW headline which stated ‘Online payment system heading for carnage’, is dead right. Despite acres of booklet and pamphlets telling farmers to get the job done early, it seems the RPA are totally unprepared.
Turn over a few more pages and Philip Case reminds us that as from 26 November many farmers and operators will no longer be allowed to spray their crops unless they attend courses and attain new certification, without which they will be breaking the law.
No matter that a farmer has attended annual refresher training days at local agricultural colleges, and have carried out these tasks safely and efficiently for up to forty years. Due to this red tape and bureaucracy that valuable and irreplaceable experience is now worthless.
Come November at great expense and several weeks off the farm to attend courses, to learn what they know already, probably from someone who is less experienced or knowledgeable than they are. Farmers must go through this rigmarole in order to comply with red tape.
Moving on, Paul Spackman tells us – that farmers and landowners who rent out buildings for commercial use are being urged to get ready for tougher rules (red tape) relating to the energy performance of those buildings.
From 2018, any new or existing non-residential building larger than 50sq m, which could include offices or workshops in converted farm building, which many farmers have diversified into, or holiday lets, will need an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of E or above.
It will be unlawful to let properties with an energy rating of F and G after 2018, unless active steps are taken to improve the energy efficiency of the buildings, at considerable cost.
So who will pay for these improvements, the landlord or the tenant? I would suggest the buck should fall upon those who are introducing this ridiculous new legislation/red tape. The Government, and why not their friends the ‘green lobbyists’, who no doubt encouraged this added red tape and bureaucracy, in the hope that the business of upgrading would come their way. We are warned that we should start the improvements now because prices are bound to increase as we get closer to 2018. Of course they will!
Successive agriculture ministers have promised to reduce red tape and bureaucracy. I think we have heard enough of these platitudes. Day after day we are told what we can and cannot do with our land, machinery, buildings, livestock and employees. As I have said before this is ‘land nationalisation by the back door’.
Does any of the above make the countryside better, safer, more productive, cleaner or more efficient? No. On the contrary, most of the above will prove to be expensive, time consuming, wasteful in resources, and in some cases could well make the difference between a farm business surviving by remaining sustainable or having to close down.
Since 1991 and before farmers have been encouraged to diversify, use redundant farm buildings for workshops, offices, tearooms and holiday lets. For many this has proved a lifeline, particularly for small family farms.
They are surviving but by 2018, for some, this could well be the straw which breaks the camel’s back. Thus opening up the market for yet more city yuppies with their hedge fund bank accounts, glossy 4x4s and an intolerance of all that is rural, moving in next door.
On the 7 May I am going to vote for the party which will truly end red tape and bureaucracy. The one which will allow farmers, landowners and small businesses to run their affairs without interference, unnecessary gimmicks and ineffective and costly regulations. The one which does not create ‘jobs for the boys’, at our expense. If it’s not too late perhaps I had better start my own party!
Carola Godman Irvine