Farmers in England have been told that they should set-aside the same amount of land that they were obliged to in 2005.

Junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach made the announcement last Friday (30 Sept), acknowledging that insufficient information is available to come up with an alternative rate for 2006.

“I am only able to act on the basis of the provisional data currently available, and have therefore decided that there should be no change to farmers’ set-aside obligation for 2006,” he said.

“Once we have fully validated data available in the next few months, if there is any scope for reduction in the set-aside rates, I will ensure that this is fully explored immediately and that any announcement is made as quickly as possible.”

In 2005, farmers applying to the scheme were required to calculate their set-aside obligation according to a formula based on the eligible arable area on their holding.

But DEFRA has said there is no need for farmers to undertake any such calculation in 2006.

Instead, farmers should set-aside the same area of land in each region (lowland, Severely Disadvantaged Area or moorland) that they were obliged to in 2005, irrespective of whether the amount of eligible arable land on their holding has changed.

DEFRA has said once the data on 2005 SPS applications is fully verified, farmers will be allocated a fixed number of entitlements including, where appropriate, a number of set-aside entitlements.

The number of those set-aside entitlements, subject to any transfers that may take place, will determine the amount of land that farmers’ are required to set-aside for 2007 and future scheme years.

Martin Howarth, NFU policy director, said the union was not happy it had taken so long for the government to make an announcement, as it should have made one in August.

“The announcement isn’t actually that clear,” he added. “If the set-aside rate turns out to be less than 8%, are they going to fix entitlements at 8% or are they going to reduce them?”