Tories committed to voluntary set-aside

Shadow farm minister Jim Paice says the Tories prefer voluntary environmental measures rather than a compulsory set-aside replacement.

Mr Paice committed the Conservatives to voluntary set-aside as he delivered the Shuttleworth Lecture in Bedfordshire on Thursday (12 March).

“If we go down the compulsory route the environment will end up much worse off.

“In my view the only way to retain the potential benefits from set-aside is through targeting it at the areas of land where it is going to be of most use and by incentivising farmers to do it.

“That means through an enhancement of Entry Level Stewardship – using the carrot not the stick.”

Removing an untargeted 5% of land from production at a time when the government wanted an increase in food production made no sense, said Mr Paice.

An approach where farmers chose to leave the most appropriate land fallow would mean much less land lost to production and better results for wildlife.

“Under a compulsory model it is almost certain that many farmers will decide not to renew their ELS agreements and it won’t take many to do that before the environmental consequences outweigh any benefit from compulsory set-aside.

The Conservatives believed farmers would deliver the environmental outcomes required to make voluntary set-aside a success, said Mr Paice.

He added: “We will give them the opportunity to prove it, even if the present government opts for a compulsory scheme.

“But there is a duty on the industry to deliver.”

 Increasing reliance on cross-compliance could end up damaging the environment, Mr Paice said.

“We are in danger of reaching a tipping point where farmers consider that the single farm payment, which will diminish over time, does not adequately reflect the increasing requirements of cross-compliance. 

“Once that tipping point is reached – and compulsory set-aside will propel us towards it – environmental protection will be seriously undermined.”

Read our special report on set-aside.