The NFU has welcomed EU proposals for a temporary suspension
of compulsory set-aside next year, in the light of tightening
world food supplies and severe weather in Europe.
Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel
If the proposal from EU farm commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel,
is ratified by the European Parliament, it will mean that EU farmers
will not be required to put up to ten per cent of their arable
land into set-aside, which could bring up to 3.8million hectares
of the EU’s land back into production.
However, the NFU does not expect that all existing set-aside will be
ploughed up in England and Wales. Where farmers have put land into long-term,
environmentally-friendly set-aside, they can keep it exactly as it is
without suffering any financial penalty. And because most of such land
is likely to be of poorer quality to cultivate, the expectation is that
it will not be brought back into production.
In a letter to Defra Secretary of State Hilary Benn, NFU President Peter
Kendall argues the widespread uptake of Environmental Stewardship since
March 2005 and farmers’ application of cross compliance standards
will ensure wildlife and the countryside need no longer rely on the uncertain
benefits of set-aside.
He said: “This temporary suspension of set-aside is a good short
term decision and it would also be the correct long term decision too.
Set-aside has no place in modern farming, especially given the pain many
English farmers have undergone in the last two years. It places perverse
restrictions on farmers’ response to the market place and it is
a poor provider of environmental services. A zero rate for set aside
will reduce the bureaucratic checks farmers and government need to take
and remove the nonsense whereby many livestock and dairy farmers have
to put temporary grassland into set-aside because it counts as “arable”.
It will mean that farmers, not politicians, will decide how much of their
land to cultivate and how much to leave fallow.
“Evidence collated by Defra* has shown rotational set-aside is
poor in food reserves for birds, while its value as a breeding habitat
may be limited by high predation and herbicide sprays. We would agree
with the author of the Defra report – and this is a point that
the Game Conservancy Trust has also made strongly – that well-designed
Environmental Stewardship options are much more effective in maintaining
the increase in farmland bird numbers to which set-aside has undoubtedly
“The other really important thing about this decision is the signal
that it must send to the policy-makers, which is that the productivity
of farmland matters more now than it has done for many years.
“The priority now is to encourage farmers to respond to the market
and ensure prices are driven no higher than is justified by the market
situation. Both consumers and farmers would find it bizarre if in the
UK we were preventing arable farmers from optimising their output at
a time when the over-riding concern is not surplus, but shortage.”
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