Monday, 16 February 2009

Return of Set-Aside Schemes for Farmers

Environment secretary, Hilary Benn has announced new proposals to bring back payments for farmers who set aside areas of uncultivated land to promote biodiversity and environmental benefits.

The system of subsiding farmers for setting-aside areas of land from agricultural production was introduced in the 1980’s in order to curtail over-production, which had generated food surpluses and caused a dramatic reduction in some commodity prices.

The scheme was effectively abolished by the European Commission in 2008 after harvests were devastated by extensive flooding and global food prices began to soar. Environmental groups and conservationists did not welcome the decision as the uncultivated land provided a vital source of food and refuge for wildlife in agricultural landscapes, especially birds.

In a speech to the National Farmers' Union conference in Birmingham later today, Benn is expected to propose two possible options; a mandatory scheme requiring a minimum area land to be set aside with incentives to expand, and an entirely voluntary scheme. A decision is expected in the summer.

"I welcome the idea of a voluntary scheme, led by the industry, if we can be sure that it will deliver," he is expected to say.

Read more about this issue on the Guardian news website
Updates on the NFU conference can be found here