Managing ‘insurance’ set-aside

Farmers opting for insurance set-aside should take care to meet both set-aside and cross-compliance requirements, urges a leading adviser.

“By timing the cutting of green cover to between 1 and 15 August you can manage land flexibly,” says Alastair Leake of the Game Conservancy Trust.

Dr Leake is running cross-compliance training courses for Momenta as part of an England-wide DEFRA-funded advice programme.

Insurance set-aside, land voluntarily fallowed beyond the 8% statutory requirement, is often used to cover margins of error in calculations, he explains.

“The practice helps avoid any subsequent problems with the set-aside area.

But as land is withdrawn from agricultural production, cross-compliance kicks in, particularly the need to keep it in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC).”

Meeting both sets of requirements is straightforward provided farmers are aware of the different cutting rules, says Dr Leake.

Under GAEC 12 rules, green cover may not be cut between 1 March and 31 July, to protect ground-nesting birds.

By contrast set-aside must be cut from 15 July to 15 August, or be destroyed by the month’s end to allow entry for the following crop.

“A farmer running a 300-acre farm may set aside a 25-acre field.

That means he meets his 8% obligation with one ‘insurance’ acre left over.

“The two sets of cutting rules overlap between 1 and 15 August which provides a window of opportunity for that extra area.

“Making the cut in this window allows it to be included as set-aside if there is a dispute over area allocations but also protects the farmer’s single payment.”

But the amount of extra land should be kept to a minimum – just enough to provide the required insurance, cautions Dr Leake.

“A sketch map should be submitted to the RPA to show where a field is split between land meeting the set-aside requirement and extra insurance land.”

DEFRA is working to merge set-aside and cross-compliance regulations, but this may well need to be the subject of a consultation, which could delay matters, he notes.

“It has also listened to farmers’ concerns and made GAEC 12 more realistic and practical for this year.

“For example, manure may now be stored on GAEC 12 land or adjoining fields due to be cropped in the following season as long as there is no significant water pollution risk.

“But it must not be applied more than two months before sowing any subsequent crop.”

The requirement to establish green cover by 1 March on land in summer fallow has been removed provided the land is to be cropped next season.

“Farmers now won’t be breaking any GAEC requirements when making early preparations for autumn drilling on land where winter crops have failed.

However, soil protection measures must be maintained to avoid run-off.”

Both organic and conventional growers will be pleased to see an option help with weed control, adds Dr Leake.

Bare fallow is allowed, for up to 15 months, where blackgrass, couch, thistle and docks are problems.

“Again, soil protection measures under GAEC 1 and 2 apply.

If problems persist farmers can apply for a further derogation from RPA.”

Long-term fallow and scrubby land needs cutting once every five years, but no more than 50% should be tackled in years four and five.

However care must be taken to ensure that inspection is still possible and that it could be returned to agricultural production.

The aim is to ensure uncropped land is managed rotationally and that fallow is not subjected to massive disturbance across the entire area in a short period, he explains.