27 July 2001

Back to drawing board for DEFRA

THE Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has agreed to amend part of a report investigating fertiliser pricing after crucial data was revealed to be wrong.

An investigation by the NFU-backed Inputs Task Force, set up to study alleged price distortions, seemed to show that British farmers were paying up to 17% more for ammonium nitrate than their European counterparts.

Much of the weight behind the accusation rested on a "mystery shopper" exercise comparing prices within the EU. But it has since emerged that in certain cases the study failed to compare like with like.

"UK producers tend to use straight AN which contains 34.5% N, while those in Germany opt for Calcium Ammonium Nitrate with only 27% N," said David Heather of the Fertiliser Manufacturers Association.

"Re-working the prices on a price per kg of N basis shows the two countries to be on a par."

However, although conceding that the error was unfortunate, Marcus Themans, chairman of the NFUs technical committee, who sat on the taskforce, defended its findings.

"To look at the mystery shopper exercise in isolation is a misunderstanding. The intention was not to specifically compare prices, we were aiming to examine the nature of the market and enlighten the farming industry.

"When a large degree of control is exerted over the market by a few conglomerates, more transparency is needed." &#42