4 August 1995

Brussels set to overturn UK set-aside rule change

MAFFs decision to tighten exemptions to the rule requiring set-aside land to have been farmed for two years could be overturned by new proposals from Brussels.

MAFF announced that certain exemptions allowing farmers to set aside land farmed for less than two years have been withdrawn.

The move, which came into effect on July 28, is designed to stop growers taking on large blocks of arable land solely for set-aside. MAFF officials feared such transfers, a more attractive option than the AR26 transfer scheme, were undermining set-aside as a production control measure.

But EU Commission officials are planning to scrap the rule requiring set-aside land to have been farmed for two years as part of their "CAP simplification" procedures (Business, page 20). That would allow farmers to buy or lease set-aside land on the open market, which may spell the end of the AR26 set-aside transfer scheme.

"The timing of this has clearly taken MAFF by surprise," said Jim Ward, Savills Agricultural Research. "I expect their new rules, backdated to July 28, will appear in this years arable area payments explanatory guide but they may soon have to reverse the decision."

MAFFs decision to change the two-year exemptions rule has disappointed land agents. Christ-opher Monk, Strutt and Parker, Chelmsford, said most set-aside transfers had been arranged through this route, which was an attractive option for farmers leaving the old five-year set-aside scheme.

"Although we have also been involved in transfers via the ministrys AR26 scheme, we find it generally unpopular and inflexible.

"The lettings route has been more user-friendly and it seems unfortunate that the ministry has now closed this route without making their own AR26 scheme more workable."

MAFF has said multi-year leases arranged before July 28 would be allowed to continue. But Mr Monk said further clarification of what exactly constitutes a multi-year lease was needed.