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UK’s Leadsom fuels debate with plans to scrap three-crop rule

Britain’s environment secretary has promised to abolish what she referred to as the “ridiculous, bureaucratic three-crop rule,” amplifying a debate with environmentalists.

The UK’s head of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Andrea Leadsom has promised to abolish what she referred to as the “ridiculous, bureaucratic three-crop rule,” amplifying a debate with environmentalists.

The announcement is part of a broader effort by the post-Brexit government to eliminate many EU agriculture regulations, which they have deemed counterproductive, costly and unnecessary, and establish new ones.

“No more existential debates to determine what counts as a bush, a hedge, or a tree,” Leadsom reportedly stated at the Oxford Farming Conference. “By cutting the red tape that comes out of Brussels, we will free our farmers to grow more, sell more and export more great British food whilst upholding our high standards for plant and animal health and welfare.”

The three-crop rule, part of 2014 Defra CAP Reforms based on EU guidelines, requires certain farmers with more than 30 hectares of arable land to grow at least three different crops to qualify for Basic Payment Scheme subsidy payments. A two-crop rule applies to farms with more than 10 hectares of arable land. 

Among those in favor of abolishing the rules is the NFU, the agriculture and horticulture union with 55,000 members, whose former president Peter Kendall referred to the three-crop rule as “utter madness.”

But environmental groups have stuck by the crop-diversification measures, arguing that they help with conservation and mitigate climate change.

Green Party MEP for the South West, Molly Scott Cato, who sits on the European parliament’s agricultural committee, argued that the government is “determined to dive headlong into encouraging damaging monocultures.”

“The attack on the three-crop rule shows Leadsom is set on shredding measures aimed at safeguarding our soils, protecting habitats and utilizing farmland for capturing and storing carbon,” she said. “There is also a strong whiff of hypocrisy here since the greening measures that Leadsom is now vowing to rip up were agreed unanimously by all EU Agricultural ministers, including her own government’s.”

Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for the South East, added: “Andrea Leadsom has again attempted to vilify EU safeguards by labeling them as ‘red tape’ and, most concerningly, promising to scrap the vital protections. The ‘red tape’ the environment minister is threatening to cut is currently protecting our rural environment, our biodiversity, our soil, and the welfare of farm animals.”