Claims that farmers could simply surrender their set-aside entitlements instead of paying someone to offload them are misleading, according to DEFRA officials.

The possibility of simply giving up set-aside entitlements first emerged at a Central Association of Agricultural Valuers conference in Cardiff.

Experts had thought farmers could transfer their set-aside entitlements to the National Reserve using the standard RLE1 form.

But after detailed enquiries from Farmers Weekly, the Rural Payments Agency has clarified its position and says that surrender will not be possible.

A DEFRA spokesman said: “Farmers cannot simply surrender set-aside entitlements to the national reserve.” EU Regulations did not offer that possibility, he explained.

But brokers also warn that the much-discussed strategy of paying farmers to take on set-aside entitlements but not claim them, so they are cancelled after three years, could also fall foul of EU laws.

The so called ‘artificiality’ clauses aim to penalise any misuse of EU funds.

Francis Mordaunt at Andersons said: “Set-aside is a complete anachronism – we all thought it was going to disappear in the last reform.”