6 October 1995

Mixed reaction to new 10% set-aside rate

THE new set-aside rate of 10% has received a mixed reaction from arable growers.

Kent grower Martin Holmes at Drylands Farm, Molash, is happy after "taking a flier" with his industrial oilseed rape area.

"I guessed it would be 10%, and this confirms what I hoped." Last year he drilled 3% too much, and had problems persuading the merchant to cut the contract area. "Im glad it was announced earlier. But it is still not soon enough for industrial rape growers."

It also denied him the chance to set aside poorer parts of the farm. With non-rotational set-aside now at the same level as rotational, he is tempted. "If the rate falls below 10%, industrial cropping could be more hassle than its worth."

At Piddletrenthide Farms in Dorset, James Boughey expects many growers will plant the extra area with wheat. That could bring grain prices down. "I shall slip quietly the other way and stay with rape."

Lower prices also worry Bob Green at Bedfordia Farms, near Bedford. But he will not trim set-aside to help combat them – a new block of land will dilute some of the excess area, and he is happy to keep the surplus.

"We are not trying to get away with as little set-aside as possible here. It stacks up financially." Grassed headlands account for 18% of the original farm area – 15% guaranteed for five years, and 3% flexible. The payments match gross margins on these often-compacted areas, he reckons.

Glos grower Nick Bumford would like to adopt the same strategy for environmental reasons at Guiting Manor Farms, near Cheltenham.

But with set-aside levels likely to vary from year to year, he will stay with industrial oilseed rape. "Beneficial seed mixtures are expensive. We need more of a guaranteed policy to make long-term decisions."

Views on the new set-aside rate vary – for Beds arable manager Bob Green it means little change.