FARMERS MUST start thinking about their 2005 IACS applications now and some have only one week to put in place set-aside for the first time, say rural consultants.

This year”s SP5 form is so important because any land not declared on it will be ineligible for payments under the proposed eight-year lifespan of the single farm payment scheme, said Richard King of farm business consultant Andersons.

“This will be the only opportunity to influence the level of payments.”

Mark Webb of rural consultant Webb Paton added: “This will be the mother of all IACS forms. The one thing people can”t do is put it behind the clock and wait until the last minute before filling it in.”

Even though the May 16 deadline might seem a long way away, some farmers may not receive their forms, which will also include the chance to apply to the national reserve, until the beginning of April, leaving little time to fill them in, said Louise Staples, a land agent with Carver Knowles.

Miss Staples said farmers should check that all land was registered with the Rural Land Register before claiming. This included woodland and other land that may not have appeared on previous IACS forms.

She also said there were some farmers who had only just realised that they would have to set aside land for the first time. Under the SFP, all holdings must set aside 8% of land that has not been under permanent pasture in the past five years (except where the total amount does not exceed 19.48ha (48 acres).

This could affect dairy farmers with temporary grass leys or who grow forage maize. For example, a unit with 4ha (10 acres) of maize grown in rotation over the past five years would need to set aside 8% of those 20ha (50 acres), said Mr Webb.

The deadline for set-aside is Jan 15, after which land cannot be cropped, grazed or fertilised.

Producers who feel their SFP is less than they are entitled to, after business changes or force majeure, also need to decide if they should register as hardship cases before the end of January or apply to the national reserve on their IACS forms, said Paul White of Brown & Co. “If in doubt apply as a hardship case.”

Those planning to apply to the national reserve should make sure they have all the documentation to back up their claims ready by the time the IACS forms arrive, he advised.