30 May 1997

Area aid rulings make nonsense of rotations

UK interpretation of EU area aid rules on rotations is environmentally unfriendly and makes for less efficient farming, claims a Somerset farmer.

Jim Barnard says a MAFF ruling, which prevents one-to-one swaps of IACS eligible land for ineligible land, is unfair to growers using long rotations. He is pressing for a change.

The original scheme defined eligible land as having grown appropriate crops in the preceding five years. That effectively fixed the registered area and set a ceiling on CAP payments, Dr Barnard says.

So there is no economic reason why growers should not be allowed to rotate eligible arable areas around their farms, he argues. But only under exceptional circumstances are they permitted to do so.

Dr Barnard, Liberal Democrat spokesman for Tiverton and Honiton, has a dairy herd and grows cereals on 80ha (200 acres) at Keward Farm, Pawlett, Bridgwater. His basic 10-year rotation is very efficient, he claims. "It means we can grow corn more cheaply because we are on clean land all the time." Restricting rotation inevitably means using more agrochemicals.

Other member states interpret the rules more freely, he maintains. "In Eire 90% of applications for one-to-one swaps are permitted."

An NFU spokesman acknowledges only about 25% of UK requests are granted. Discussions with MAFF to simplify procedures are expected shortly.n