27 September 1996

Maize overshoot means 42% fall in crop support

By Philip Clarke

MAIZE growers in England face a 42% cut in their subsidies, following a massive overshoot of the separate base area.

But other crop growers have narrowly escaped any cut, as the area on which aid has been claimed falls short of the arable base area.

According to MAFFs provisional figures, now tabled in Brussels, the total maize overshoot came to 64,467ha (159,298 acres). But this was partly offset by a 40,844ha (100,926-acre) undershoot for other arable crops.

As such, cereal growers will receive the full rate of aid and set-aside, with cheques to go out in November. But maize growers will get just £156/ha (£63/acre) in area aid and £197/ha (£80/acre) for any related set-aside. (Growers in the "simplified scheme" will also have their aid cut.)

But unlike 1994, when maize aid was last cut, there will be no penalty set-aside carried forward into next season. (This would have effectively meant growers setting aside 76% of their maize area without compensation.)

As such, more maize is likely to be entered under the arable area payments scheme in 1997, though any further expansion of the area will only lead to bigger cuts in support and the possibility of penalty set-aside in 1998.

"With compulsory set-aside so low (5%), I believe it will still make sense to claim aid on maize next season," said Francis Mordaunt of farm business consultants Andersons. "Only on farms where taking the odd hectare out of production would leave them short of forage and having to buy in extra feed, would it be better to keep maize out of the scheme."

Maize growers will also have to keep an eye on cattle stocking rates, adds Norman Lightfoot of the Maize Growers Association. It may not be worth claiming area aid if setting aside potential forage area then jeopardises beef special premium or extensification premium payments.

While the maize overshoot has taken few by surprise, the shortfall in the area claimed for other crops, (cereals, oilseeds, pulses, linseed, set-aside and simplified scheme crops) has been more unexpected.

Last year this undershoot came to 39,900ha (96,369 acres) compared with a base area of 3.76bn ha (9.29bn acres). But a number of beef producers are believed to have ploughed up some grass in the spring following the onset of the BSE crisis. And with recent June census figures showing a 3.7% increase in the combineable crop area, compared with a 2% drop in set-aside, observers were anticipating some degree of overshoot.

In the event, the shortfall is actually bigger than last year, according to MAFFs figures.

&#8226 Scottish maize growers are not subject to separate arrangements for maize. As such, their aid is only cut by the 4.6% announced for all IACS claims. Welsh growers will not know their fate until November.

Contractors move in on 62ha (25 acres) of Hudson maize at Godfrey Maundrells Ogbourne Down near Marlborough, Wilts. Frost damage meant the crop had to be harvested early. Mr Maundrell said the cut in aid was less than expected and he would definitely claim next year.