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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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GAEC: Changes that farmers should know about

There is a “higher level of ambition in several domains” for rules for conditionality across SMRs (Statutory Management Requirements) GAECs – Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions – in the new Common Agricultural Policy, according to a spokesperson for the European Commission, writes farming journalist, Catherina Cunnane.

CAP payments are linked to a set of mandatory rules/regulations known as conditionality (previously cross-compliance in the last CAP), which consists of SMRS and GAECs.

Since January 1st, 2023, there are a number of key changes to SMRs (11 in total), as outlined in this news article on That’s Farming.

There are also changes to GAECs (9 in total), which govern standards relating to soil, the protection and maintenance of soil organic matter, and avoiding the deterioration of habitats and water protection.

In this news article, That’s Farming, takes a look at some of those GAECs to inform readers of changes under 4,5,6, 7 and 8.

4 – Establishment of buffer strips along water courses

  • Ties in with SMR 1 on nitrates [as outlined in this news article on That’s Farming]
  • Increase in buffer zones in 2023 to 3m
  • Where non-grass forage crops are grazed in situ, there must be a 4m buffer strip along water feature boundaries
5 – Tillage management – reducing the risk of soil degradation and erosion, including consideration of the slope gradient
  • Limited changes – Ploughing of land with a 15% slope (arable field), 20% slope (grassland field) or greater prohibited in December;
  • Land can not be left bare for more than four months – must have a crop.

6 – Minimum soil cover to avoid bare soil in periods that are most sensitive

  • Again, limited changes – deals with poaching/rutting issues to land;
  • Grazing non-grass forage crops: Lie back required (of at least equal size to the area you are grazing) for animals to graze on;
  • 3m buffer strip along non-water feature boundaries in those areas.

7 – Crop rotation in arable land only

Non-exempt arable holdings will be required to adhere to the following practices:

  • Crop diversification – 2 or 3-crop rule for certain holdings – was previously part of BPS Greening. Derogation for 2023 by virtue of market shocks arising from the Russia-Ukraine war but does apply in 2024 and onwards;
  • Crop rotation at parcel level by the end of a 4-year cycle across these years; 2023, 2024, 2025 & 2026 – a new requirement

The DAFM has secured exemptions for farmers in Ireland with small areas with less than 10 ha of arable or organics, where crop diversification and crop rotation requirements do not apply and also farms with 10-50 ha of arable where at least 50% of an arable area is sown in barley.

Catch crops are an alternative to crop diversification and crop rotation and require at least 50% of the arable area on the farm to be sown in catch crops annually.

All parcels must be sown in catch crops over the four-year cycle, and the DAFM has re-iterated that cash crops under ACRES do not count in terms of fulfilling requirements.

GAEC 8 – Minimum share of agricultural area devoted to non-productive areas or features, retention of landscape features, ban on cutting hedges and trees during the bird breeding and rearing season and measures to avoid invasive plant species:
  • Min share of 4% of ag area to non-productive areas or features;
  • Previous requirement of 5% for EFA (ecological focus areas) as part of Greening, Commonage, Natura 2000, Forestry;
  • Now applies to all farmers;
  • Gives acknowledgement to farmers for hedgerows, drains, lines of trees, buffer areas, ect;
  • Early assessments from DAFM – 90% of farmers should achieve this 4% without any changes in practice;
  • Requirement to maintain landscape features that are designated under GAEC 8 – hedgerows, lines of trees, archaeological sites;
  • New addition in 2023: Ponds less than 0.2ha are now considered a landscape feature;
  • Hedgerow removal only permitted in exceptional circumstances only, as defined by the DAFM. In advance of removal, a new hedge of twice the removal length must be planted as close as possible within the holding, which is a doubling of the previous requirement.
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