24 March 2000

£10,000 offered to GM triallists

By Johann Tasker

FARMERS were offered up to £10,000 each to take part in the governments farm-scale trials of genetically modified oilseed rape, it has emerged. Additional payments mean farmers growing GM rape this year stand to receive more than three times the money made by conventional rape growers.

Producers asked to participate in the trials were offered £1000/ha up to a maximum area of 10ha (25 acres), farmers weekly was told by one producer who asked not to be named. The farmer declined the offer, saying it was not enough to offset the risk of having his crops ripped out by GM opponents.

Participants who accepted, however, can also claim subsidies on eligible land. At an expected area payment of £298/ha (£120/acre), the total package means growers planting GM rape trials will receive almost £1300/ha (£526/acre) – more than three times the gross margin of £373/ha (£151/acre) expected this season for non-GM spring rape at current prices.

Campaigners against GM crops are likely to claim that the money amounts to a financial incentive to encourage sceptical producers to take part in the trials. But the cash should be seen as compensation rather than an inducement, said Clive Rainbird, spokesman for Aventis, one of the biotechnology firms testing GM rape.

"Any suggestion that farmers are making money out of this is quite fallacious," he said. "The farmers arent disadvantaged but theyre not making money out of this, theyre just not losing money. That is the essential difference.

"If a farmer agrees to do a spring oilseed rape trial with us, we compensate him for the value of the crop he would have grown at market value. If his rotational plans were to have grown potatoes in that field and he decides to do a rape trial we would pay him the equivalent rate for potatoes so he is not disadvantaged."

The location of 13 field-scale trials of GM rape planned for this year has already been announced. Environment minister Michael Meacher has also revealed the whereabouts of nine GM beet sites and GM maize sites. He is expected to reveal the location of a further 50 GM trial sites during the coming weeks.

Payments for farmers taking part in the GM beet trials are likely to be higher than for GM rape because it is more expensive to grow. But Monsanto, which is testing GM beet, said agreements between the biotechnology company and the farmers growing the crops were confidential. &#42