Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 18:58 UK

Combine rain ban could be eased

Combine harvester
The UK produced a record wheat crop despite wet weather

An EU law banning farmers from using combine harvesters on wet soil - branded "one of the most stupid ever" by a Tory peer - could be relaxed.

In England the regulation has been waived for the past two years because of wet weather at harvest times.

But environment minister Lord Hunt said it could be eased permanently after it was attacked in the House of Lords.

Former farmers leader Lord Plumb said it was "stupid" and Baroness Boothroyd branded it "ridiculous".

'Ludicrous'

No British farmers have been fined for breaking the EU rule which was brought in to prevent soil erosion.

But Baroness Boothroyd, the former Commons Speaker, who is now a crossbench peer in the Lords, said: "British farmers are the best judges of whether or not to use heavy machinery on their wet fields.

The issue is not one of flexibility but of basic sanity
Lord Elystan-Morgan

"Surely they know better than Brussels bureaucrats how to protect their soil quality for future harvests."

She demanded: "When do we expect this ludicrous EU rule or regulation to be abandoned and British farmers use their common sense?"

Lord Plumb, former President of the National Farmers' Union, added: "This is one of the most stupid laws that ever came out of Brussels."

And he added: "If we are talking about damaging soil, why not consider the problem area in Glastonbury?"

Soil protection

Environment Minister Lord Hunt said the government was looking into the possibility of easing the restrictions permanently and hoped to report "in the new year in time for next year's harvest".

He told peers: "This is about protection of the soil and minimising damage to it. My department has been as flexible as possible, that is why a derogation was given this year and last year.

"We will look to review the system to see if there can be more flexibility in future."

He said Scotland had a more flexible system and added: "That is because of the traditional, perhaps rather wetter, summers Scotland has - alas we seem to be following down this route."

But crossbencher Lord Elystan-Morgan hit back: "The issue is not one of flexibility but of basic sanity. If the land is too wet to support the combine harvester, it is surely too wet to have the corn harvested."

Despite warnings from the National Farmers' Union that the wet summer was likely to hit cereal crops, British farmers recorded a 28% increase in cereals harvested in 2008, official figures indicate.

Wheat saw a massive increase, up 32% on 2007's harvest to 17.5 million tonnes.




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