§ Mr. Beith
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations(a) she and (b) her predecessor received about extending the date limit on harvesting potatoes on set-aside land in Northumberland following exceptionally wet weather; and if extensions have been granted. 
§ Alun Michael
[holding answer 28 June 2001]The date limit for harvesting potatoes, or other crops, from set-aside land is designed to ensure that farmers cannot receive both an EU payment for taking land out of production and revenue from agricultural operations during the set-aside period. In a normal year any previously planted crops must be harvested by 15 January at the latest in order to comply with this condition, which is laid down in implementing legislation for the EU's Arable Area Payments Scheme. In view of a number of representations from the industry at the time, the UK twice successfully applied to the European Commission to have the date postponed, initially to 31 March and subsequently to 30 April, in order to allow sufficient time for harvesting to be completed where field conditions resulting from exceptionally wet weather had earlier made this impossible. We also secured a derogation allowing failed crops to be ploughed in at any time before the 15 May claim deadline, without prejudicing eligibility for set-aside payment.
Notwithstanding these changes, my predecessor did receive some subsequent representations asking for a further postponement of the harvesting date limit beyond 30 April. The European Commission were not prepared to agree to this, pointing both to the practical difficulties of ensuring that crops harvested so late had genuinely 378W been planted with a view to harvest by 15 January, as normally required, and to the likely condition of such crops after so long in unworkable ground.