Environment secretary George Eustice has confirmed the government intends to relax the three-crop rule this year, as severe flooding means many farmers would struggle to comply.
Brought over from EU law after Brexit on 31 January, the rule requires farmers managing more than 30 hectares of arable land to grow at least three different crops. Farmers with smaller land holdings are also subject to crop diversification requirements.
With large swathes of farmland underwater in England for most of February, however, the government says it is pursuing plans to relax the rule, so those who are unable to access flooded land to plant spring crops in the coming weeks and months will not be unfairly penalised.
The amendment will be made for parliament’s approval as soon as possible and all farmers will be notified once it has been approved, Defra says.
A £6 million funding pot will also be made available through an extension to the Farming Recovery Fund, for farmers affected by recent flooding in parts of East and North Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire and Herefordshire.
Mr Eustice said: “I have seen first-hand how devastating the recent floods have been to people and communities. For farmers, the costs can be overwhelming, which is why we have extended the Farming Recovery Fund to help those affected by exceptional flooding get back on their feet.
He added that the three-crop rule is “not practical” in extreme weather, when farmers need to plan spring cropping.
“Applying a blanket derogation for this year is the best way to reduce bureaucracy and leave farmers free to get on with farming,” he added.”
“I’m also aware that the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) is causing other difficulties for the farming community. The Rural Payments Agency is working tirelessly to ensure farmers have access to all the guidance they need and we are exploring all options to ensure the right support is available in the coming weeks and months.”
Using the Farming Recovery Fund, affected farmers in eligible areas can claim for grants between £500 and £25,000 to cover uninsurable repair costs such as the re-cultivation of farmland, including re-seeding, replanting cover crops and alleviating soil compaction.
The fund was opened to support recovery from flooding in June and July last year, and extended to cover further flooding in parts of South Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and the Midlands in November.
NFU’s deputy vice president Stuart Roberts said the increase in funding will be “a huge relief” for farmers affected by Storms Ciara and Dennis.
“We know of some farmers facing bills of hundreds of thousands of pounds from uninsurable losses, including high value horticulture crops rotting in the ground. And it’s been impossible to get new crops planted due to five months of incessant rainfall,” he added.
Further information on application dates for the extended fund will be released in due course, the government says. Farmers affected by recent flooding who have already repaired damage caused are advised to keep records of all relevant evidence, including receipts and before and after photos, to help the Rural Payments Agency process applications promptly.