4 April 1997

Back to basics with support

ENVIRONMENTALLY friendly measures should be the basis of managing EU grain production, according to David Sole, cereals manager with United Distillers.

"I hate set-aside. It isnt good for the countryside, it looks terrible, and it isnt natural. I am a passionate believer in free marketing – the market should dictate the price," says Mr Sole.

"Presentarable aid payments are unsustainable and, without them, farmers will be forced to concentrate on crops for which there are real markets," he says.

There should be a widespread return to mixed agriculture which is self-perpetuating instead of farming that is propped up by subsidies and artificial inputs, he maintains.

"Malting barley is a good example. If set-aside is increased to 10 or 15% then spring malting barley is the first crop a farmer will drop. It is always marginal unless there are sizable premiums from maltsters. If the premium is screwed down, wheat or oilseeds will replace barley as long as the current support system is in place.

"That is wrong because there is a real market for malting barley with an annual demand in the UK for 2m tonnes."

He sees a secure future for malting barley in a less regulated world agriculture. "That is why we have announced contracts with premiums of up to £40/t above feed for the coming harvest."

Mr Sole argues for set-aside to be replaced by a free market with production controls linked to environmental protection. "We have had the era of intervention, now we have control by set-aside. Both incur huge costs on the taxpayer. I think the taxpayer would be far happier if support was linked to reduced inputs of chemicals, particularly nitrogen.

"Such a switch would have to be for Europe as a whole. But it would lead us back to mixed farming over a much wider area of Britain and would be good for the countryside," says Mr Sole.

Allan Wright

&#8226 See p75 for our special focus on set-aside.