Skip to main content

Agriculture: Set-aside

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 9 July 2009


My right honourable friend the Secretary of State (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I wish to inform the House of changes to cross-compliance and of an agreement that has been reached on the approach to recapture the environmental benefits of set-aside. This follows public consultation earlier this year.

To meet the requirements of the common agricultural policy health check for the protection of water resources, new standards will be introduced to cross-compliance. These will require farmers to comply with the existing domestic abstraction licensing regime for irrigation activities and to restrict the spreading of inorganic fertiliser and manure where it is likely to adversely impact on water quality. In addition, farmers will be encouraged to implement buffer strips as a voluntary measure to further protect water resources, and the success of this approach will be monitored. We will also consolidate four existing standards relating to soil into one, providing farmers with increased flexibility and clarity and removing the need for derogations to access waterlogged soils. Further simplification will come from clarification of the existing standard protecting hedgerows, which will encourage traditional hedgebank management. Lastly, on land not in agricultural production, greater flexibility will be allowed by confirming that a range of non-agricultural activities can be undertaken.

The Government have agreed with the National Farmers’ Union, the Country Land and Business Association and other partners to set targets to help farmland birds, biodiversity and water quality, through an industry-led voluntary approach to recapturing the environmental benefits of set-aside. This Campaign for the Farmed Environment will be led by the farming industry and is an opportunity to create a successful model for future voluntary partnerships between government and farmers. The voluntary approach is aimed at the three key beneficiaries of set-aside—farmland birds, other biodiversity and resource protection—through voluntary action and encouraging the uptake of the most valuable options within environmental stewardship.

Under the new agreement, by June 2012 farmers will:

double the uptake of the agri-environment entry level scheme in-field options, covering 40,000 hectares on top of current levels;

increase uncropped land by 20,000 hectares from January 2008 levels. The campaign will also seek to improve the environmental management of at least 60,000 hectares of this land; and

introduce voluntary measures on other land covering at least 30,000 hectares and up to 50,000 hectares.

All this will be on top of a baseline of the land already being managed for environmental benefit, which will be measured this autumn. The campaign will tailor activities at a local level working through county groups that will be set up by farmers. I have made it clear that there is a mandatory fallback, which could be introduced at a future date if the campaign is judged not to be working, but we will give it our full support.

I will place a copy of the memorandum of understanding signed by the partners in the Library of the House.