Increase in uncropped land – is three-crop rule to blame?

The area of arable land that farmers in England have left uncropped has increased by 21% on last year, according to the latest figures from Defra.

This area increased from 179,000ha in 2015 to 216,000ha as of 1 June, although this was not enough to have a significant effect on the total area of land used for wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape, which shrank by just 0.2% to 3,144,000ha.

The increase in uncropped land could be due to farmers having given up pulses after planting them to satisfy the EU’s three-crop rule last year, said Richard King, partner and head of business research at consultants Andersons.

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Many farmers went into pulses for the first time last year in order to meet greening requirements, said Mr King. 

For some though, such crops had not fitted into their farming operation, as they needed different storage, agronomy and knowledge. For others it had not made economic sense after prices dropped, he said.

These farmers may have left some land fallow instead this year. With cereal prices having been on the floor, some growers may also have decided not to plant cereals on poorer land.

‘Don’t crop worst 5% of land’

“Business consultants have been banging on for ages [telling farmers] not to crop the worst 5% of their land – maybe the message is finally getting through,” he added.

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However, while the figures from Defra tended to be robust, the data did not give the full picture, said Mr King, and pulses, linseed and other crops did not appear to be included.

Last year, the area of uncropped arable land increased 20% on 2014, according to Defra. Greening requirements and the need to more accurately record margins and poor, uncropped areas could have been behind it, according to advisers.

The South East saw the biggest jump in uncropped arable land, rising 28% to 66,000ha, while the North West and Merseyside saw such land increased by only 2%.

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