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The Government is seeking flexibility on the operation of the Arable Area Payments Scheme following a request from the NFU to help farmers whose normal use of land has been disrupted by foot and mouth restrictions.

Many farmers have animals on fields where they would not normally be because they have been unable to move them since the foot and mouth outbreak began.

The NFU has been pressing MAFF to seek the changes to the scheme to relieve some of the pressure on farmers caught up in the restrictions. It is hoped that the necessary rule changes will be agreed at the European Commission's Cereals Management Committee on 26 April.

MAFF is seeking a derogation to enable farmers to sow crops up until 15 June under the scheme.

The requested changes also include an extension of the regulations allowing animals to graze set aside land until 31 August 2001 and to graze declared cropped areas without losing their right to an area payment.

The Commission has also been asked to confirm MAFF's interpretation that it is acceptable for farmers to take cuts from set aside land to feed animals elsewhere on the farm, either directly or after conversion to hay or silage.

NFU Vice President Michael Paske said: "Throughout the whole foot and mouth disaster we have relied upon a flexible interpretation of the rules on schemes like AAPS to alleviate the pressure on farmers who are coping with the restrictions placed upon them.

"It is good news that MAFF has listened to our concerns and has submitted a request to Europe. The Commission must now act to help alleviate the very real problems we are facing."

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