Moorland farmers in the Westcountry are being warned they should take part in a new Government consultation – or risk having their land classified incorrectly.
The consultation is about the way that Less Favoured Areas (LFAs), including Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor, are designated,
The European Commission has proposed to replace LFAs with a new designation known as "Areas of Natural Constraint" (ANC). This requires a mapping exercise to ensure that land which is agriculturally disadvantaged is included under the new ANC designation.
Changes could see some designated areas lose their status and new areas come in. The online consultation, launched by the Department of the Environment, Trade and Rural Affairs, will help form a part of the ongoing negotiations on reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.
Melanie Squires, regional director of the National Farmers' Union, warned: "Existing LFA land has been designated since the 1970s. If the European Commission's proposals to move away from LFA towards ANC designation come to fruition, it will mean significant changes to land designation, which may well be in place for the next 40 years.
"So it is critically important that we get this mapping exercise right.
"Initial indications suggest there may be a small net increase in the area of land designated as ANC, compared to the existing LFA, but what is extremely concerning to us is the potential changes on the maps at a local level. The Government estimates that around 12% of the current LFA falls out of ANC designation."
She said the NFU was consulting members affected to test whether the proposed areas properly reflected agricultural constraints, but it strongly urged members to take part in the consultation, or run the risk of having land incorrectly classified.
She added: "Our initial assessment is that the European Commission's proposals do not accurately reflect agricultural handicaps. Land may face multiple minor handicaps, but when taken together, add up to significant limitations on what a farmer can do with his land.
"The Commission's proposals fail to recognise this adequately, but it should be borne in mind when designating areas of natural constraint under the future regime."
In addition to potentially losing some existing LFA land, the new ANC proposals may result in significant new areas coming into the designated sites. LFA land is typically associated with the uplands, but agricultural land facing constraint may be located anywhere in the country.
The NFU wants the Government to assess any new designations on a case-by-case basis to ensure the future designation is credible.