Despite high grain prices, farmers will not plough every available hectare of land this autumn in anticipation of zero set-aside, says the NFU.

Although a firm decision on what the level for the coming season will be, all signs point to derogation from the need to set aside land from production, says the union’s chief arable adviser Guy Gagen.

Since 1992 farmers have been obliged not to grow crops for food on some of their land to qualify for EU aid. But with grain

SET-ASIDE FACTS
  • Set-aside was voluntary when introduced for the 1988/89 season, but became obligatory in 1992. Last season’s figure was 8%.
stocks shrinking and prices rocketing, the European Commission is moving away from market management.

Some growers have already begun ploughing out rotational set-aside, notes Mr Gagen.

“The plan is to work closely with their merchant to fall back on industrial contracts should set-aside remain in place after all.”

An NFU survey found arable farmers were unlikely to cultivate non-rotational set-aside.

“Those that have linked their set-aside with environmental stewardship schemes will be expected to keep those in place, but I’m sure they would want to anyway,” says Mr Gagen.

“Farmers surveyed clearly stated, with a change in the rules, they plan to crop only a proportion of the land not currently in production, in particular the area of set-aside rotated around their farms.”

But even if set-aside were to be set at zero there would still be plenty of unresolved “baggage” involved.

For example, when it comes to filling in claim forms set-aside at zero doesn’t mean the same as abolishing it, he explains. But in some respects, for example cutting dates, the rules for managing set-aside are easier than under GAEC 12.