Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has added its backing to calls for an exemption to be made on the 3-crop rule this year.

The regulation, which came into effect in January 2015 as part of the Basic Payment Scheme, requires farmers with more than 30ha of arable land to grow at least three different crops.

As part of the 3-crop rule, the main crop cannot occupy more than 75% of the land and the two main crops combined cannot occupy any more than 95%.

The rule was designed to encourage better crop rotation; however, this year the wet weather has delayed ploughing and planting – meaning that many growers have already missed out on the opportunity to plant alternative crops.

‘Significant waterlogging’

A DAERA spokesman said officials had been gathering evidence to allow Defra to put a case forward to the European Commission.

He said: “The department recognises that extreme weather during the summer resulted in significant waterlogging of agricultural land.

“Coupled with sustained rainfall and frost and snow during the winter, this has meant that arable farmers in Northern Ireland – through no fault of their own – have been unable to plant the normal range of crops that would enable them to meet the crop diversification requirement under the greening scheme.

Swans making the most of the wet conditions in a flooded field in Comber, Co. Down over the weekend

“The department has compiled evidence to support a case for a derogation from the three-crop requirement in Northern Ireland in 2018 due to the adverse weather conditions, and has written to Defra asking that it submits it as a formal request to the EU Commission on our behalf as a matter of urgency.

“The decision on this matter ultimately rests with the commission.”

Relentless wet weather

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) said the relentless wet weather has made the ‘three-crop rule’ for arable and horticultural growers particularly challenging.

With the end of the planting season fast approaching, UFU president Barclay Bell warned farmers were quickly running out of options.