13 November 1998

£100m farm emergency

package in the pipeline?

By Shelley Wright

AN emergency government aid package for farmers, thought to be worth in excess of £100m, looks likely, following a meeting on Wednesday evening between Prime Minister Tony Blair and the countrys farming leaders.

Although no details had been released as FARMERS WEEKLY went to Press, it is understood that the money will be concentrated on the livestock sector, with a substantial increase in hill livestock compensatory allowances for both cattle and sheep.

There was speculation that HLCA rates could be doubled, adding an extra £50/cow and £5/head for sheep. Some of the funding for that could come from the £48m EU agrimonetary beef compensation that the UK is still entitled to claim following successive green £ revaluations.

Farm minister Nick Brown has made clear over recent weeks that he believes hill farmers, in particular, need help. The government is also thought to believe it can gain the maximum kudos with the general public by directing much of the extra cash to the upland areas.

Another likely candidate in the package is the extension beyond Nov 30 of the calf processing scheme, although the payment rate is expected to be cut.

Agrimonetary aid for the arable sector is believed to be unlikely. And the government is not expected to offer any additional help to cover SRM (specified risk material) disposal at this stage. Current government aid covering additional SRM controls continues until next spring, so any extension of that would be the subject of a later announcement.

The package is the result of weeks of work by the NFU and its Scottish and Northern Irish counterparts. All presented a shopping list to government officials involving a range of measures they believed were needed to help ease the industrys problems. Negotiations then began, continuing on a daily basis until last week.

Then, on Tuesday, the Prime Minister issued a surprise invitation to the unions to meet him in Westminster the following evening.

Emerging from the hour-long meeting, union leaders said the Prime Minister was already well aware of the problems hampering the industry and had given his commitment that something would be done. But they insisted that details of how much money might be involved, or when an official announcement would be made, had not been revealed.

Other items that the farming unions had lobbied for included support for the beleaguered pig sector, although finding an acceptable way to pay any cash to an unsubsidised industry had proved a stumbling block. Government was also asked to consider extending the private storage aid scheme for pigmeat and to continue funding the British Cattle Movement Service beyond next October.