By FWi Staff

FARMERS may soon be able to set all their IACS-registered arable land aside if exploratory talks between MAFF officials and farming organisations identify sufficient environmental benefits.

Given the state of farming incomes, such a move might create interest, especially among farmers nearing retirement and new investors, says Paul White, of farm business consultants Brown & Co.

It could provide a neat alternative to farm business tenancies or contract farming, especially as combinable crop rents are falling towards set-aside payment levels.

But tenants should ensure they have their landlords consent to avoid breaching their tenancy agreement, particularly those containing good husbandry clauses, he adds.

MAFF this week also announced its new multi-annual set-aside arrangements to replace the guaranteed set-aside scheme, which closed to new entrants in 1999.

But it is essentially the same as the old scheme, says Mr White. Farmers who set-aside 100% of their land for energy crops can do so for five years, and others can set aside up to half their land for the same period, subject to certain extra environmental conditions or a management plan agreed with an appropriate organisation.

MAFF guarantees that set-aside payments will not fall below the rate paid in the first year. But payments have already fallen, says Mr White. And, with rates based in euros, farmers will still be exposed to exchange rate fluctuations.