THE GOVERNMENT‘S 2m margin ruling could cut production by more than 4%, an NFU spokesman has calculated.

The ruling is part of England‘s cross-compliance measures and will force producers to leave 2m of uncultivated ground along field boundaries.

But national combinable crops board vice-chairman Paul Temple said the ruling was unfair, because it penalised producers with smaller fields, as well as those who had made the biggest environmental contribution in the past.

Instead of making the issue a cross-compliance measure the 2m margin rule should have been included in the new Entry Level Scheme (ELS).

“This ruling belongs in the ELS, where it would have been a very popular option,” said Mr Temple.

“Producers would have been partly compensated for the yield reductions, and it would have shown a positive, voluntary approach by the government.”

Mr Temple has done some calculations on his own 364ha (900 acres) holding just outside Driffield, E Yorks.

He forecast a 4.5% loss of production on smaller fields of about 6 acres, with losses of about 1.6% on the larger fields at Wold Farm.

“Anyone who has retained hedges or planted new ones will lose out,” he said.

“Operational costs will also increase, because it is more time consuming to turn machinery within a smaller area.

“We are all working harder and putting in longer hours than we were five years ago. Managing these margins will mean a lot of extra work.”

Farmers had already shown they could adopt a professional attitude to a voluntary scheme, because of the success of the Voluntary Initiative, introduced to avoid the need for a pesticide tax, added Mr Temple.

“The VI has worked well. It has achieved far more environmental benefits than a tax on pesticide use.

“But no one is arguing that there is a need for farmers to prove to consumers that they are responding responsibly to environmental pressures.”

“UK producers are already trying to compete in a ruthless world market, and trying to manage the environment successfully at the same time.

“This ruling will dissuade them from planting new hedges, because everyone has become nervous about taking any action they feel may put them at a disadvantage in the future.”

“It is not too late to try to persuade the government to alter the ruling, and the NFU will continue to press for change,” he said.