Assess the winter grazing options available for sheep

Ulster Farmers' Union - County Down countryside, near Dromara. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Ulster Farmers' Union - County Down countryside, near Dromara. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

With the autumn months not far away, sheep producers are beginning to plan ahead and assess their winter grazing options.

The CAP Reform process has undoubtedly created challenges for many livestock farmers trying to get access to conacre and many are now beginning to query how CAP Reform may impact on plans to get access to winter grazing this year on other farms.

Winter grazing has historically given sheep producers the opportunity to give their own land a break in the run up to lambing the following spring.

Quite often this arrangement has been between dairy farms and sheep producers from October through to February. Looking to the coming winter, this relationship between two ‘active farmers’ will be the key to meeting the requirements of the CAP regulations.

As all farmers are already aware, the person drawing down entitlements in the new Basic Payment Scheme must be an active farmer, i.e. the person who has the decision making power, takes the risk and receives any financial benefit from the land.

In addition, the claimant must have the land in their control for the majority of the year and especially on the 15th May. Most farmers will automatically qualify as they have historically farmed their land and will rarely have let ground.

The decision to allow other farmers to winter graze your land with sheep will ultimately depend on individual circumstances. If we take as an example a landowner who has historically let their land in conacre and has decided to become ‘active’ in 2015 but carries out little or no agricultural activity on the land for the majority of the year and then lets it to a farmer for winter grazing, it will be extremely difficult for the landowner to demonstrates that he meets the requirements of the Basic Payment Scheme. In contrast and as an example, if we look at circumstances where a dairy, beef or arable farmer has farmed their land for the majority of the year and makes their land available for grazing during winter, this should not be a problem. This is because the farmer who owns the land will be able to demonstrate that he has been farming the land for the majority of the year, has grown the crop which will be grazed over winter and also that this has historically been part of their farm business.