The UK Government has announced a series of measures to assist the country’s farmers at a time of extreme high temperatures and possible draught.

Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) rules are to be relaxed to allow farmers to cut or graze areas of land set aside in their agreements to go with practical support already available from the Rural Payments Agency and the Environment Agency. The measures are designed to help farmers deal with the impacts of some of the driest weather for decades.

The changes mean that they will have the option to relax rules in their agri-environment scheme agreements, to make it easier to provide vital food for livestock. The changes come into immediate effect from today and will last until the end of 2022, allowing agreement holders in the Countryside Stewardship or Environmental Stewardship schemes to take steps such as cutting or grazing additional areas of land to help ease shortages of bedding, fodder, grazing or forage crops.

The new rules will help increase access to bedding, fodder, grazing or forage in ways that limit its environmental impact. Forage crops – those fed to livestock or plants grown to then be cut for food – are also being impacted as less silage is made and farmers are feeding stocks to their livestock now, instead of saving them for the winter months.

The Environment Agency has declared drought status for large parts of England, including the South West, South East, East and Yorkshire.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “We are better prepared than ever before for these unprecedented dry conditions, but many farmers are concerned about water supplies and the impact on their crops and livestock. We are therefore introducing temporary easements on agri-environment schemes to give them the flexibility to respond.”

Paul Caldwell, chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency, added: “We know that farmers are facing pressures as they deal with the consequences of these exceptionally dry conditions, and we hope these practical steps will help farmers safeguard food production and help with animal welfare. We are committed to supporting agreement holders as much as we can during this difficult period and help ensure that they can maintain existing environmental commitments.”

Through its agriculture monitoring groups and working closely with industry organisations, Defra is continuing to assess the impact of dry weather and is considering what further steps can be taken in the coming weeks.