Farmer Focus: Environmental set-aside ‘spectre’ for Robert Law

The government’s recent rap over the knuckles for issuing misleading statistics on knife crime reminded me of its obsession with statistics and targets.

Its attitudes to NHS operations and SFP payments are amazingly similar do all the easy ones first to reach laid down targets and only then tackle the more awkward.

This might explain why I’ve received a 2008 SFP payment from one business with a straightforward application, but am still waiting for a more complicated 2005 one for another business to be sorted and fully paid.

Meddling with environmental schemes and set-aside looks set to continue through 2009 and beyond, with funding seemingly always on a “boom and bust” basis.

After three years with no funding for amendments to ongoing CSS agreements and entry targets for HLS set at unattainable levels, it’s been all change over the past six months, with funds now aplenty.

Natural England staff tell me they have insufficient feet to visit would-be applicants’ farms, and the mechanism for producing maps for proposed HLS schemes is woefully inadequate.

More worrying is the looming spectre of set-aside reappearing.

Having thought we were moving to a decoupled market-driven environment where growers would have freedom to produce, its shackles look set to return described as Environmental Set-aside coded XC2.

This isn’t Brussels-driven, but promoted solely in the UK by large conservation bodies.

Insiders tell me it will be between 4 and 6% with options based around buffer strips, overwintered stubbles and low-input spring cropping.

These will fill heavy-land growers with alarm, and most light-land farmers I know have flogged these options to death to reach targets in their current agreements.

If XC2 comes to pass in this new guise many ELS agreements due to be renewed in the next two years will be terminated.

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