The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has introduced a more supportive, partnership-based approach to inspections, moving away from the penalty-based system under the EU, to farmer-focused visits for schemes such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and Countryside Stewardship (CS).
To reflect this change, inspections are now referred to as visits, a broad term covering inspection, monitoring and environmental outcome visits. Inspectors are now referred to as Field Officers and the Inspectorate is known as the Regulatory and Advice Service.
We will continue to carry out visits for control purposes because we’re giving out public funds, but with the aim of supporting farmers by offering greater levels of advice, guidance and signposting to help improve compliance with standards and scheme requirements, and achieve better outcomes.
The RPA Field Officer’s role is to visit farm premises to ensure farmers and claimants are complying with UK and legacy EU legislation, scheme rules, and agreement options. We undertake more than 6,500 visits each year, supporting the farming, food production and food trader sectors across England. Our Field Officers are a source of advice and guidance on holdings as well as remotely, supporting farmers, livestock and landowners with their applications and compliance. Going forwards, our advice and guidance activity will increase as we work with farmers and land managers to help them secure the outcomes of their agreements, prior to checking compliance with scheme controls.
As part of this supportive approach, we have introduced a new visit record checklist. This will help inform farmers of their responsibilities, and you can also expect a summary of the visit on Cross Compliance and CS Domestic visits, including any advice and guidance given, as well as what is going well in the agreement. We want to use this insight, in combination with other data sources, to help all our scheme participants meet their obligations.
We’ve already delivered a number of improvements such as simplifications for CS and the new twice-annual payments of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), and we’ll continue to improve as we support you through our new approach for farming and land management. Our aim is to improve your experience further through:
- Reducing the visit burden by using information from our remote observation activities to increase the number of checks we’re able to do without the need for field visits.
- Using the data we gather, including the remote observations and farmer feedback, to identify issues as they arise, helping farmers and land managers get back on track with their scheme requirements before control visits.
- Ongoing training for Field Officers as schemes develop and feedback is received.
- Listening to feedback and refining our approach to field visits and making things more straightforward where we can.
- Improving the speed of post-visit and payment processing.
- Supporting vulnerable members of the rural community.
Farmers and rural communities are at the heart of what we do, as we strive to provide excellent delivery and outcomes that are in the public interest. We’ll continue to support farmers and land managers through the agricultural transition, seeking to place profitable and sustainable farming and food production at the forefront of environmental good practice. We share your passion for high quality food production and a flourishing environment and will continue to seek ways to help you meet scheme obligations in a way that reflects your commitment and our duties in managing public funds.