FARMERS AT Cereals 2004 have reacted angrily to suggestions that 2m uncultivated strips may be included as a cross-compliance condition of the single farm payment.

“This is gold-plating the rules,” said Vincent Hedley-Lewis, Lincs farmer and chairman of Farmacy.

“If you want these strips you should pay for them under the Entry-Level Stewardship Scheme,” he told junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty at an HSBC seminar at the event.

Lord Whitty confirmed that the 2m margins had been “certainly one of the most popular” options in the ELS pilots.

He said that DEFRA is aware that it is a contentious issue and that including it as a cross-compliance condition would aversely penalise farmers with small fields.

“But what does the environmental part of Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions mean if you don‘t take a little bit of your land out of production to enable biodiversity to flourish?”

NFU president Tim Bennett said it would damage the ELS and undermine many of the recommendations from the Curry Commission if 2m margins were included in GAEC.

“Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland won‘t include it, but there‘s a good chance England will,” he pointed out. “To have discrimination within a member state is frankly not on.”

The consultation on cross-compliance closes on 20 June.