5 April 1996

Lack of compensation is stumbling block

WITHOUT compensation, field margins will remain an exercise for the dedicated few. Ministry money is needed to kickstart such schemes into action, Mr Bumford maintains.

Despite sacrificing just over 2% of his arable area to margins, returns remain healthy. Yields are only a half to a third of the field average that close to the hedge, he reckons.

Although that is still costing about £120/ha (£48.50/acre) in lost yield, gross margins across the arable area remain at a healthy £920/ha (£372/acre), he notes.

Most farmers find those costs acceptable, especially when they realise the benefits (see box), he maintains. The main stumbling block is the lack of compensation for keeping the land idle.

"Many farmers who visit the estate are keen on the idea. But as soon as they realise that field margins are not eligible for set-aside or IACS payments, up go the shutters."

Mr Bumford is missing out on just over £4000 worth of set-aside payments. He believes policing problems are the reason such small areas cannot be included as set-aside. "The spy in the sky can identify a 20m strip, but not a 2m one." Land-based spot checks would be too labour intensive, he admits.

IACS payments are out, too. Although "land traditionally left unplanted" is eligible, the ministry does not include margins in that definition. "Most farmers around here do not have margins, so they cant be called traditional." But he has included half the width in his IACS eligible area. "I could have taken the full 2m and chanced it. But I do not want to jeopardise my IACS payments. The ministry are aware, and accepted it last year."

Despite that, Mr Bumford is still sacrificing almost £2000 in lost payments on the remaining uncompensated 6ha (15 acres). He believes the ministry should grant derogations to include field margins as IACS area. Until that happens, he believes few farmers will adopt them.

"That is a great shame. The benefits are well documented, and it is wonderful PR. The public are spending a great deal of money to support agriculture – this would be an ideal way of showing we are putting it to good use.

"Field margins are a practical way of allowing us to farm for optimum output while providing excellent natural habitat. If I were the ministry, I would make it compulsory, not penalise farmers for doing it." &#42

&#8226 Buffers hedge from crop inputs.

&#8226 Thick growth prevents pernicious weed ingress.

&#8226 Aphid predators flourish – no insecticide needed last summer.

&#8226 Encourages natural flora and fauna.

&#8226 Provides food and shelter for wide range of insects, birds and small mammals.

&#8226 Ideal nesting habitat and nursery for game and other ground nesting birds.

&#8226 Public appeal.