Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Defra extends suspension of waterlogged soil regulations for farmers to harvest cereals, oilseeds and protein crops

Following a request from farming representatives, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has granted a further temporary exemption from the cross compliance standard for farmers who need to use mechanical equipment and vehicles on waterlogged soil to harvest their cereals, oilseeds and protein crops in England (GAEC 3).

The Environment Secretary has the power to give an exemption from the requirement in periods of exceptional weather conditions, and on 10 September 2008 announced an exemption until 4 October. In view of the persistent wet weather conditions and its adverse effect on harvesting, Hilary Benn has reviewed the situation and given a further temporary exemption from the requirement until 25 October 2008 (subject to review).

The Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition standard, GAEC 3, prohibits farmers from carrying out mechanical operations and using motorised vehicles on waterlogged soil. The standard is a cross compliance requirement intended to prevent compaction and damage of waterlogged soils and therefore avoid exacerbating drainage and run-off problems when soils dry out.

Usually wet weather conditions do not coincide with the harvest, but a wet summer has made waterlogged conditions more prevalent than usual. Defra has considered the current circumstances in relation to both the economic and environmental effects of the wet weather and consequent water logging. Given the widespread distribution of affected areas, which include the North and the West Midlands, a national level exemption is appropriate.

Hilary Benn said:

“The NFU and other farming industry representatives have alerted me to the continuing problems caused by not being able to use machinery on waterlogged soil after the recent rainfall, and the promise of further rainfall threatens the remaining harvest.

I have decided to extend the exemption across England, solely for the purposes of harvesting cereals, oilseeds and protein crops, until 25 October 2008. We need to continue to do all we can to help the harvest.”

Defra asks once again that farmers minimise their access to waterlogged areas for harvesting and it is important that they do not initiate other land activities, such as ploughing in preparation for sowing for next season until suitable soil conditions prevail. Farmers are advised to record any soil damage from harvesting conducted under the temporary exemption, and the necessary remedial action, on their Soil Protection Review (GAEC 1). Remedial action is essential to avoid creating problems for the future and farmers should take such action as soon as is practicable before the next crop is sown.

During this period it is likely that Statutory Authorities or those acting on their behalf may need access to claimant’s land for such activities as watercourse clearance and emergency or remedial works.

This situation is covered in the Guide to Cross Compliance which confirms that third parties accessing farmland under their statutory authority such as for carrying out emergency works will not affect farmers’ responsibility for cross compliance. In such cases, farmers are advised to notify the RPA and record any soil damage on their Soil Protection Review.

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