Realising the potential of Ecological Focus Areas

Last updated: 03 Jan 2018

EFAs are a requirement of the Basic Payment Scheme. If implemented with some thought and consideration, this requirement can be an opportunity for your farm business, enabling the integration of good farming practice with management for wildlife and improved water quality.

Key Changes to Greening Rules for 2018

This is a brief summary that will be updated as more official guidance is released. For the full rules, see the December FAS Newsletter and BPS 2018 webpages (NFU, CLA and TFA also have online member-only briefings). Different rules apply in Scotland.

Catch & Cover Crop Options

The EFA Catch Crop Option minimum period for establishment has been extended to eight weeks, from 20 August to at least 14 October.

EFA Nitrogen Fixing Crops (NFC) mixes

In addition to pure NFC strands, you will be allowed to use:

  • mixtures of different NFC species
  • mixtures of NFC and other crops, as long as over 50% is NFCs.

EFA Plant Protection Products (PPP) Ban

While this is possibly the change that has received the most press attention, check you understand the timings and implications of the ban on different EFA options.

You cannot use any plant protection products on:

  • EFA Fallow Land - between 1 Jan to 30 June 2018
  • EFA Catch and Cover Crops  - during the 8 or 13 week periods
  • EFA Nitrogen-fixing Crops – the entire crop cycle, from sowing to harvest. This includes seed dressings and PPP cannot be used to destroy a crop.

There are no exemptions to deal with noxious weeds or blackgrass. PPPs include seed treatments, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, dessicants and plant growth regulators.

Where multi-annual nitrogen fixing crops (e.g. clover or lucerne) have had PPP applied in previously in their lifecycle, it would be prudent to assume that they are not eligible as EFA for 2018.

EFA Hedges Definition Extended

The definition has been extended in definition to include trees in a line. It must be a minimum of 20 metre in length (measured from the canopy edge to canopy edge) and there must be a minimum of 3 trees, at the edge of an arable filed or within 5 m of arable land.

EFA Buffer Strip Definition Extended

Previously, a buffer strip had to be adjacent to a watercourse, it can now be next to a road, hedge or fence or other permanent boundaries. There needs to be at least 1m uncultivated strip. If the hedge is being claimed for EFA, the 1m is taken from the edge of the hedge to the edge of the crop (and not from the centre of the hedge).

Enhancing EFA fallow

Did you know that you can turn machinery on fallow land and sow a non-commercial crop? (Rules are different if the fallow land is part of a stewardship agreement).

Actively managing EFA fallow can enhance the farmed environment, without taking valuable land out of production. Most farms have 3-5% of land that is low yielding, regardless of how much time you put into it. Taking out these areas can reduce your input and production costs and a change in management could have significant benefit to the farmed environment.

Have a look various opportunities open to you:

1. Fallow strips alongside a hedge

Establishing uncultivated margins alongside hedges allows good access for hedge cutting meaning this work can be completed during the winter months. As well as being beneficial for wildlife, this means you can easily comply with the cross compliance hedge cutting dates.

2. Flower-rich field margins

Give pollinators a boost by sowing long-term wild flower mixes. If well established in the first year, these will require relatively little management and help you meet your requirements, year after year. Again, you can use this margin for occasional access.

3. Wild Bird Seed Mixes and Pollen & Nectar mixes

Wild and game birds, bees and beneficial insects can all benefit from seed mixes that provide shelter and food throughout the year.  These seed mixes can last several years, making them a good investment for the initial cost.

Plant Protection Products can still be used on these habitats, but only outside the fallow period (1st Jan to 30th June). It is worth considering autumn established brood rearing mixes.

Best placed in your least productive areas, these mixes can be rotated around the farm, integrated into a shoot, and connect habitats across the farm.

4. Beetle banks

An under-used measure with a host of benefits, a 2m wide bank through the centre of a sloping field sown with perennial grasses such as cocksfoot, timothy and red fescue, can provide a home for over-wintering predatory insects, reducing spring pest numbers significantly. Leave a working gap at each end to allow you to work the field as a single unit. It can also help reduce soil movement.

Beetle bank at GWCT Allerton Project

Beetle Bank_49878 

A few tips to help you avoid the pitfalls

  • EFA is an annual calculation, check your eligible arable land area hasn’t changed. For example, if you’ve taken on or rented land.
  • Err on the side of caution with the 5% EFA area. The RPA online measuring tool is a useful guide but not reliable enough to be definitive.
  • Check with your supplier about seed dressings on wild bird seed or pollen & nectar mixes.
  • If you use a feature to meet your EFA requirements and agri-environment agreements, check you meet both sets of rules. For example, you cannot turn on a stewardship margin.

Wildflower margin_12033

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