Confusion about the set-aside calculation for 2006 and beyond has prompted the Rural Payments Agency to produce new guidance, including worked examples of how set-aside transfers will work.

The guidance, which will be in a Policy Update booklet going to farmers in the next week, reminds producers that for 2006 the basic requirement is for a farmer to have the same number of hectares in set-aside as they were required to have in 2005.

This is even the case if the farmer has changed the amount of arable land eligible to be set-aside on his holding.

For example, a farmer who had 100ha of land eligible to be set-aside in 2005 would have been obliged to set aside 8ha.

But even if the farmer has reduced the area of his holding to 50ha of land eligible to be set-aside in 2006, he will still be obliged to set aside 8ha.

Similarly, if the farmer has increased the size of his holding in 2006, he will still only be obliged to set aside 8ha.

The note also highlights the fact that the 2006 requirement relates to the number of hectares that the farmer was obliged to set aside in 2005, as distinct from any additional land taken out of production as “insurance”.

Simon Lunniss, spokesman for the RPA, said farmers should calculate the number of hectares they are required to set aside, and if they have any land over this that they aren’t cropping it should be identified and managed to meet Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) 12 (land not in agricultural production).

“The GAEC 12 management rules are slightly different from the set-aside management rules – the main difference being when you can cut the green cover,” he said.

“But basically the position is if you cut the green cover during the first two weeks of August then you meet both sets of requirements.”

Mr Lunniss said the guidance note had been produced because the agency wanted to make sure that farmers understood the new arrangements.

It is a concern that is shared by Arthur Hill, chairman of the NFU’s cereals board, who said that he feared that farmers hadn’t understood the 2006 position because the original statement issued by DEFRA had been confusing.

“I think it needs properly explaining to farmers.”

isabel.davies@rbi.co.uk