The farming industry has come a long way since it emerged a year ago that the government was considering a set-aside replacement for England.
Last November, DEFRA was consulting stakeholders on new cross compliance rules. These would have replaced set-aside with a new requirement to manage 4-6% of their arable land for environmental purposes.
For many farmers the requirement would have called into question their continued participation in environmental stewardship – or in some cases another reason not to sign up in the first place.
Although 4-6% seemed a relatively modest “ask” from the perspective of conservation interests, it was the method as much as the quantity which created most alarm among the agricultural lobby.
“An extension of ‘environmental set-aside’, with detailed set-aside rules, field by field recording and the measurement of strips and areas managed under the obligation could have been bad news for everyone”, says Andrew Clark, NFU head of policy. “Frustratingly, this new requirement would have been a bad result all round; for wildlife, for farmers, for the Rural Payments Agency and for DEFRA, with higher administrative costs for us all”.
The campaign was developed as an industry-led alternative to cross compliance. “We needed a solution that allowed farmers flexibility to find a local solution they could shape to fit the own farms,” explains Mr Clark.
Over the past year, the farming industry has worked with the conservation sector, agronomists and advisers, as well as DEFRA and its agencies, to do exactly this: put the solution in farmers’ hands.