GAEC rules on hedges finally resolved

After a costly delay, NFU Scotland understands that new rules that came into force this year will not apply to crops planted before 1 January 2015.

The Scottish Government’s rules on Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) came into effect after many crops destined for harvest this season had already been planted.

At the beginning of October 2014, farmers were told that they would be required to have a two-metre wide, uncultivated strip alongside hedges – but that this new rule would only apply to crops planted from the beginning of 2015.

Not until much later was that guidance modified to say that farmers could not apply fertiliser or plant protection products, such as herbicides and fungicides to those crops even though they had been planted before the new rule came into effect. Such products are vital to the development of the crops. Trying to maintain a narrow strip in a different way is impracticable. It can lead to plant health issues in the rest of the crop and quality problems when the field is harvested.

After pressing for some time, NFUS was informed by Scottish Government today (Friday 5 June) that growers will not be penalised for using fertiliser and plant protection products on crops sown before the end of 2014 and that will be reflected in legislative changes.

Despite Scottish Government claims to be supportive of EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan’s drive to simplify the new CAP, NFU Scotland continues to challenge a number of Holyrood-imposed, gold-plated rules which go beyond Europe’s legal requirements.

NFUS President Allan Bowie said: “We still believe that the new rule is incompatible with EU legislation, which forbids the addition of extra requirements to GAEC, and we said so in the list of CAP simplification suggestions we made to the Scottish Government in February – but that is an argument that can wait a bit longer.

“For now the urgent issue of crops sown before the new rule came into being has been resolved. For months we have been working behind the scenes to get a sensible outcome to this and were told to expect that a month ago.

“We are glad now that growers who planted their crops in good faith and simply wanted to maintain them in accordance with good agronomic practice, will not find themselves being accused of a GAEC failure – with financial consequences.

“But we also recognise that many growers will have already suffered from losses because the news has come too late and well after the time that they needed to apply products to their crops.

“Growers must remember that they must continue to comply with the basic EU requirement, and retain hedges, even if their crops were planted in 2014.”

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