Philip Clarke

BEEF producers face a bureaucratic nightmare if draft regulations for implementing the extensification scheme under Agenda 2000 are agreed in their current form.

Under the new system, (which takes effect next January), all beef animals over six months old will count towards calculating the stocking rate to see if a holding qualifies for the new enhanced extensification premiums.

This contrasts with the current scheme where only animals on which beef special premium and suckler cow premium have been claimed are included.

The greatest problem is how the EU commission would assess the number of cattle kept, says NFU livestock advisor, Kevin Pearce. “The draft regulations say it must be the average stocking density throughout the year.

“We understand that farmers will have to state at the start of each year whether they intend to claim extensification premium or not. In November, MAFF will issue five dates spread randomly throughout the previous ten months. It will then ask farmers to state the total number of bovine animals on their holdings, plus their ages, on each of those five days.”

The NFU fears many farmers may not have this information readily available – especially for older animals. To prove the point, it conducted a survey of almost 200 members, sending them dummy forms with five selected dates.

The results showed that 78% of farmers would find it very difficult or impossible to comply with the regulations, while just 22% said they would be able to cope.

“Most computer programs in our survey were not able to do these calculations. There is a real danger that, unless the system is simplified significantly, it could put off the genuinely extensive farmers from claiming their premium.”

As such, NFU president Ben Gill will be raising the matter with UK farm minister Nick Brown to try to get the regulations amended.

“The changes will place even greater demands on an already overburdened industry,” he said.

The NFU has estimated that about 50% of lowland producers who currently get extensification premium will not qualify for the new payments. It also has grave concerns about how suckler cow quota is to be reduced later this year, as MAFF has to rein in almost 6% to meet the lower regional ceiling under Agenda 2000.