Re-imposing a set-aside requirement on arable farmers or enhancing other elements of cross compliance under the Single Payment Scheme would be a serious mistake, the Tenant Farmers Association has warned.

Cereals 2008 PICTURE GALLERY and FORUMS.

The TFA is concerned that pressure from environmental organisations, which Natural England has noted, may convince DEFRA ministers to act along such lines.

That would severely damage UK farming’s competitiveness and ability to meet the increasing challenges of food security, TFA National Chairman Greg Bliss told visitors to Cereals 2008.

“The world has moved on and DEFRA and those advising it must do so as well,” he said.

“Set-aside was developed as a supply control mechanism in the 1980s, when Europe was significantly concerned about surplus production.  We are in a completely different ball game today with global cereals stocks at their lowest levels for decades and with a suspected exponential increase in the demand for food into the middle of this century.”

“Any environmental benefit obtained through set-aside was very much created by accident rather than design.  It is a bit rich that the same environmental organisations that have in the past criticised set-aside are now treating it like a long-lost friend.”

Mr Bliss said the various stewardship schemes should be the route to environmental benefits.  That way, benefits could be properly targeted and resourced. 

The arable sector’s cost base had increased massively in recent months, he said.  Farmers were already angered at the Government’s lack of help with the doubling in fuel costs over the past 12 months.

“To re-impose set-aside or stronger cross-compliance conditions would simply add insult to injury,” Mr Bliss said.