Defra has confirmed more support for farmers to help them deal with the impacts of some of the driest weather for decades.
The measures mean that they will have the option to relax rules in their agri-environment scheme agreements to make it easier to provide vital food for livestock. The changes came into effect from 17 August and will last until the end of 2022, allowing agreement holders in the Countryside Stewardship or Environmental Stewardship schemes to take steps such as cutting or grazing additional areas of land to help ease shortages of bedding, fodder, grazing or forage crops.
A full list of these easements has been published by the Rural Payment Agency (RPA) and includes steps, such as allowing ‘buffer strips’ and field corners to be cut early. Guidance has also been made available to inform farmers how to record the adjustments they have made.
The new rules will help increase access to bedding, fodder, grazing or forage in ways that limit its environmental impact. Forage crops – those fed to livestock or plants grown for food – are also being impacted as less silage is made and farmers are feeding stocks to their livestock now, instead of saving them for the winter months.
It comes as the Environment Agency declared drought status for large parts of England last week, including the South West, South East and East, with Yorkshire added on Tuesday 16 August.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “We are better prepared than ever before for these unprecedented dry conditions, but many farmers are concerned about water supplies and the impact on their crops and livestock.
“We are therefore introducing temporary easements on agri-environment schemes to give them the flexibility to respond.”
Paul Caldwell, chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency, said: “We know that farmers are facing pressures as they deal with the consequences of these exceptionally dry conditions, and we hope these practical steps will help farmers safeguard food production and help with animal welfare.”
Defra is continuing to assess the impacts from dry weather and is considering what further steps can be taken in the coming weeks.
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