24 March 2000

MAFFseeks hedge deal

MAFF is hoping to reach an agreement with the EU Commission to drop a controversial proposal that threatens the future of Britains hedges "as soon as possible".

But in response to rumours emanating from Brussels this week, MAFF insisted that agreement had not yet been reached on the "2m rule", which farmers say could cost them thousands of pounds. Proposed last year in a bid to bring the UK in line with other member states, it would mean boundaries encroaching more than 2m into a field would be ineligible for IACS payments.

A Brussels-based industry observer claimed this week that the EU Commission was on the verge of agreeing to MAFF proposals that would exclude an estimated 95% of UK hedges from the 2m rule.

Increase width

The proposals would increase the width allowed to 3m and provide environmental justifications for excluding hedges from the rule. These include hedges in areas of "environmental or scenic importance" or near agri-environmental schemes. The proposed wording is said to be deliberately loose to allow the maximum number of hedges to be exempted.

A MAFF spokeswoman said this is along the lines of proposal MAFF has put to the commission, but insisted that no agreement has been reached yet. She acknowledged the urgency with which farmers need an answer – the deadline for IACS payments is May 15 – and said MAFF is working hard to resolve the issue.