Dual use – Defra boldly goes where the Celts fear to tread

Well, what a wait! The determination of whether or not Dual Use was to be permitted in England under the “new” CAP regime was one of the key decisions that needed to be made to allow farmers and owners to plan their best way forward. Defra, bless it, managed to delay the decision right to the very last moment.

Dual Use refers to the practice whereby one party, usually the hands-on farmer, claims the standard CAP payment (SPS/BPS), while another, usually the landowner, claims other payments, such as agri-environment payments. This practice is well established in England with farmers and landowners using it to maximise payments on areas of land, whilst also maximising the environmental outputs.

Some worry that this practice may be against the EU CAP rules, leading to “disallowance” (fines in normal speak) being imposed by the dreaded EU Auditors. This body is viewed with the same affection by Civil Servants as heretics reserved for the Spanish Inquisition. Fear of the Auditors has led to the practice of Dual Use being banned in both England and Scotland.

Thus, there was a real worry that Defra could go the same way. However, it seems that Defra was not so worried about the auditors, but only delayed its decision due to worries over its own IT system. Finally, on 21st September, Defra announced that Dual Use could continue for all existing agri-environment schemes and that it could apply to all new Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship agreements. It will also apply to Mid Tier agreements beginning from 2017, but not those beginning in 2016.

While this news was very welcome for most, it was pretty inconvenient for those involved in applying for 2016 Mid Tier schemes as the news came out only 9 days before the application deadline.

It has been interesting, if predictable, to observe the reaction of the various industry representative bodies to this news. The CLA and the NFU seem rather pleased with the decision, if a little indignant over how long it has taken. Meanwhile, the TFA has got rather cross and accused Defra of “dropping the ball”. This is not terribly surprising as it would be an unusual event to divide a large funding scheme between different parties and leave everybody happy with their allocation.

My view is that the dual use approach allows considerable flexibility in farming arrangements, whilst maximising the funding that an area of land can draw into the rural economy. It allows landowners to meet various objectives including letting land to willing farmers. Sadly, this decision will do nothing to boost my workload as it will not result in farm business restructuring designed for no better reason than to maximise CAP payments.

If you would like any further information or to discuss any rural related matter, please contact Tom Wills, head of the agriculture & estates department at Sintons.

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