More support for farmers has been set out today to help them deal with the impacts of some of the driest weather for decades, Defra has confirmed.
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 come into effect from August 17 and last until the end of 2022, and allow 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 for farmers in hot and dry weather 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 to then be cut 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 last week, the Environment Agency declared drought status for large parts of England, including the South West, South East and East, with Yorkshire this week.
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.”