FRUSTRATION sums up the past week as the new BPS mapping tool showed its fragility when introduced to the real world.

Here is my update of the current issues:

• Registration continues at pace but the more farmers that go online, the slower the speed of the software. Our experience is to avoid the middle of the day if you can when there is a bit of a traffic jam. To register you are given two options – either by phone or through the verification process Make sure you choose the telephone system. Nevertheless if you haven’t registered already, please make a resolution to do so by the end of February.

• The system was closed down for part of last weekend to try to improve the mapping tool, but frankly at the time of writing, we have abandoned using it for the time being. Instead, we are accumulating in paper format our clients' details on land use, ineligible features and all the rest of the data. Even if you manage to get some information onto the maps, you can only print one field at a time, which is pretty useless. Out of interest we and other land agents have our own mapping systems which are capable of recording layers of farming information and producing whole farm plans. This may be a wise precaution;

• Another problem with the mapping functionality is the display of areas to four decimal places instead of two, which has been past practice. The software writers are apparently making amendments to bring it back to the standard two decimal places and until this happens leave well alone;

• There is a further technical issue that may affect a few of you, which is the taking of land for utility or transport works and this covers things like road works, water pipes and electric line maintenance. The new rules are that any claimed land has to be available to the farmer throughout the calendar year; this is exacerbated by another regulation which says that any entitlements not used in 2015 will be lost. So if you have any works taking place on your land you will be damned if you make a claim and you will lose your entitlements if you do not. My advice is to ensure you negotiate proper compensation with the relevant authority and provide for having to repurchase entitlements next year; but be careful to mitigate your losses;

• Please be aware that the old SPS online will be closing on March 31 making way for the new Rural Payments service. After that date you will not be able to obtain historic SPS information. Of particular importance is the 2014 SPS application which you will need to cross reference data with this year’s BPS submission and if you haven’t got a hard copy I would recommend you go online and get one. You may, of course, need other records and these are available as well.



IN a series of well attended, but often ill-tempered meetings, farmers have angrily rejected plans to introduce Whole Life Assurance for cattle. For the lay reader, the present position is that the Red Tractor Assurance label goes on any beef coming from cattle kept on assured farms for at least 90 days. This is the period generally accepted for all approved feeding systems to have taken effect and, more importantly, for drug withdrawal periods to have expired. Many farmers perceive that the stimulus for Whole Life Assurance has come from the big retailers to give them more control over the beef industry, and have made their feelings known against the Red Tractor Association whom they believe have succumbed to the pressure.

So far there have been meetings in Devon, Skipton and Stoneleigh which have all pretty unanimously rejected RTA’s proposal.

As auctioneers we do support the Red Tractor project, but do not agree with the Whole Life target for the following reasons:

• Only just over 50 per cent of beef farmers are signed up to assurance and those that aren’t include store cattle producers and small farmers who frankly do not want the extra hassle. We shall either lose them or create more cost to absorb for those finishing cattle;

• The 90 day assurance period is perfectly adequate to satisfy consumers as to the origin and environment of their meat;

• A main reason for introducing assurance was for traceability and identification, but in the last 25 years technology has evolved, and every animal is now individually identified from birth;

• Besides all the extra form filling and inspections, there is £150 per annum subscription;

• I just don’t like being pushed around by the big boys, who are hiding behind their supposition that Whole Life Assurance is being “demanded” by consumers.

We shall have to see how the RTA Board responds.



THE great fracking debate in Ryedale has generated some polarised views, but the bulk of our electorate seem to sit with me, firmly on the fence.

The passionate anti-brigade foresee problems ahead and believe that farmers have been misled. Money only flows to the owner of the well and the question remains unanswered as to who pays for damage to neighbouring land etc.

What happens if a borehole is contaminated and livestock dies as a consequence? Along with insurance, these are real issues.

Conversely, most of the mining and geophysical experts seem relaxed about the consequences of fracking, and past experience has reaped benefit rather than disaster except in an odd isolated instance.

I am also mindful that every innovation in history invokes a negative reaction.

I remember from my agrarian history lessons how Cornelius Vermuyden came over from Holland to drain the fens only to have his ditches filled in by thousands of marsh dwellers who believed it would damage their environment, and that was in 1640!

There will be a public consultation event at Kirby Misperton Village Hall tomorrow (Thursday) from 2pm to 7pm. For me, I would just report that a Bill called the Infrastructure Act was rather rushed through Parliament last week dealing with the fracking issues; and I believe was defective in the following matters:

• Land owners and occupiers will not have to be notified if fracking is to take place under their land; and this must be wrong;

• There is no provision for compensation to a land owner or indeed anyone else affected by fracking.

Our own MP Anne McIntosh was at the debate and I sense that she had the same reservations as she abstained from the vote.



Spending cuts are forecast by all parties to continue after the election.

Anne McIntosh and Liz Truss are being urged to join in an Amazonian alliance to stand its corner as far as Defra’s future spending is concerned.

Our MP has always been a staunch supporter of Defra’s activities, although very critical at times of the way they implement policies such as was borne out by her scathing comments during the Somerset flooding.

She believes it is vital that we protect Defra’s budget at the next spending review. If anything we should seek to expand their responsibilities by bringing in the Groceries Code Adjudicator and the Food Standards Agency under its umbrella. Ms Macintosh continues to be a splendid standard bearer for our agricultural industry even up to her last days in Parliament. I and many others think she has been dealt a great injustice.