It is times like these that we as farmers relish our chosen profession, and look forward to what we hope will be an easy, rain free harvest with bumper crops to fill the barns.
That is until we get back to our offices where we daily battle with the paper work, red tape and bureaucracy which seems to take up more and more of our time. It is far more frustrating and raises the blood pressure quicker than escaping cattle, midnight calving, crop disease, broken machinery at crucial times, or the dreaded rain on a crop about to be baled or harvested.
Ask any farmer what takes up most of his day, and he will tell you, paper work, forms and red tape. Most of which benefits no one, makes little difference to the environment and countryside, and certainly does not make our businesses any better or more efficient.
We are still awaiting news of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) reforms regarding fairly crucial matters which will affect decisions regarding the autumn drilling regime.
It is about now when we have a lull between hay making and harvest that we sit down to make plans and order seed and other necessary inputs for the next crop. But as it stands there are still a number of things, the list is as long as my arm, which we wait for DEFRA and the RPA to decide. If as usual, they ‘gold plate’ and complicate matters, much of which other European countries largely ignore, we will not be surprised.
Just to give a flavour of what farmers await decisions on, they are: The width of buffer strips. Catch crops – what is included. Crop diversification rules – final crop list. Definition of cut-off for what counts as winter or spring crops; we are told that DEFRA thinks a variety rather than a date approach is likely. Definition of ‘active farmer’ – the negative list includes those operating “real estate services” but this is expected to be interpreted as property development businesses and land agency. Fallow on ecological focus areas – what are the restricted dates for and will cultivation be allowed within those dates? Common land – will current notional area allocations continue? Will any common land be ‘naturally kept’ land and caught by the active farmer test? Young farmer scheme – how it works when other older farmers are involved in the same business. And so on and so on.
The South Downs Land Managers Group (mostly farmers), had a meeting on 11 June at the spanking new Head Quarters of the SDNP Authority, in the refurbished Grade II listed buildings in Midhurst, with members of staff, and chairman Mrs Margaret Parren.
Four projects which the NPA were keen to get advice and input from members of the Land Managers Group were presented by lead staff:
Payments for Ecosystem Services - Chris Manning explained work to set up a pilot lever in new income streams from water companies, in order to pay for ecosystem services.
Local Food and Drink – Kat Hale introduced Paula Seager and Hilary Knight from Natural Partnerships who are developing a South Downs Food and Drink Portal. Members present urged the SDNPA to adopt a more flexible approach to the sale of local produce in farm shops - following FARMA guidelines (40 per cent local, 40 per cent British and 20 percent from else-where).
Forestry Partnership – Nina Williams updated members on progress in mapping woodlands and identifying woodlands to target advice, and outlined business training for forestry enterprises, and the database that has been developed on the ‘My Forest’ website. Also, potential sources of funding.
Take the Lead Campaign – Nick Stewart set out the key approaches that have been used in the SDNPA’s responsible dog walking campaign – Take the lead.
I recently attempted to make an ‘on-line’ planning application to Mid Sussex District Council, for change of use for a business unit from B1 (office) to D2 (Fitness Studio). It all went along well until I was transferred to the SDNP form as Randolphs Farm is in the National Park, and planning has to go through their office.
Well, you would have thought I was trying to build a nuclear waste plant on a green fields on the side of the Downs, not just a change of use for an open plan room measuring 30ft by 17ft! Having tried hard to avoid answering questions regarding hazardous waste disposal, flooding, light pollution, excess traffic, signage and other such irrelevant information, I gave up the will to live and threw in the towel. Unless you can give answers to these questions which the programme approves of, it is impossible to submit what should be a straight forward application.
Perhaps someone in the spanking new offices in Midhurst would like to spend a little time developing a simpler edition of this form for morons (not that there are any) like me!
Carola Godman Irvine