Arable farmers in Northern Ireland say they are running out of options to allow them to comply with the ‘three-crop rule’.

Union representatives have warned that the late planting season could cause farmers to rush into buying spring barley as a last resort to meet the terms of the Basic Payment Scheme.

They have now joined their southern counterparts in calling for a derogation.

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

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.

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

‘Running out of options’

UFU president Barclay Bell said: “The union would like to ask DAERA [Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs] to consider the real challenges facing arable and horticulture growers while trying to meet the ‘three-crop rule’.

Many farmers were unable to plant winter crops due to poor field conditions and delayed planting of spring crops will leave them with very few options.

A lot of farmers will use winter crops to make up some of the balance; however, the wet weather in the autumn has made planting impossible in many parts of the country.

Rush to buy barley seed

Bell explained that already it was “too late” to plant spring wheat; with time also closing in for oilseed rape and spring oats – meaning the only option left for most farmers was spring barley.

There is concern that a rush to buy barley seed could tighten supplies of certain varieties.

The UFU president added: “In many areas, ploughing hasn’t even started and it could be mid-April before any drilling is carried out. This issue needs to be addressed urgently to allow farmers to make suitable arrangements.

“We are now calling on DAERA to look at the possibility of seeking a derogation for this year,” he concluded.