5 July 2002

Big arable No to modulation, survey reveals

By Charles Abel

ARABLE farmers are almost unanimous in their dislike of the modulation system, according to a recent straw-poll survey conducted by farmers weekly and farm business consultant Strutt & Parker.

Over 86% of farmers questioned said modulation was a bad thing, just 10% thinking it a good idea. Over 60% said they would prefer environmental cross-compliance instead.

"Our view back in February when Sir Donald Currys Policy Commission report came out was that modulation was a misguided approach," says Christopher Monk, Strutt & Parkers head of farming.

"This survey reinforces that view and highlights the deep-seated opposition to modulation that exists among the UKs arable farmers. We urge government to take heed of the views of farmers and introduce environmental cross-compliance on direct subsidy payments through the IACS scheme instead."

By subjecting all direct aid to environmental criteria through the IACS system, subsidies could be paid in a way the public approves of without across-the-board cuts, he says.

Over 90% of survey respondents said their businesses could not cope with the 17% cut in bottom line if modulation rose from todays 3% to the 20% proposed in the Curry Report.

Of the current schemes available for recouping modulation cash under the English Rural Development Programme, countryside stewardship and woodland grants were most popular. But many growers had not pursued any schemes, saying they were not financially viable.

"It is too complex for the returns on offer in terms of time and administration, given the benefits available," said one grower. "There is not enough money in it and I do not trust the government," added another. "Too much pain and too little gain," echoed a third.

Mr Monk condemns the view that 20% modulation is a distant threat. "Nobody thought government would stop match-funding modulation, but that is now looking more likely. So I do not think 20% is out of the question."

So far he has detected little enthusiasm for a shift in policy from EU or UK government officials, although several EU advisers back the cross-compliance route. A lack of understanding may be to blame, he suggests.

"I am very surprised how many people in farming and political circles do not entirely understand the present modulation system and the implications of intensifying it." &#42

MODULATION SURVEY

&#8226 86% against modulation.

&#8226 90% could not cope with 17% cut in bottom line if modulation rises to 20%.

&#8226 60% would prefer environmental cross-compliance.

&#8226 25% had not applied to recoup any money through an ERDP scheme. Reasons given included:

None appropriate for high performance arable farmers.

Stewardship unprofitable.

Do not suit tenant farmers.

"Waiting to see if a better deal is around the corner.

Stewardship requires 10 year commitment and I would like to retire in five years.

Scheme is cash negative – I have to put in more than I get out.

&#8226 86% against modulation.

&#8226 90% could not cope with 17% cut in bottom line if modulation rises to 20%.

&#8226 60% would prefer environmental cross-compliance.

&#8226 25% had not applied to recoup any money through an ERDP scheme. Reasons given included:

&#8226 None appropriate for high performance arable farmers.

&#8226 Do not suit tenant farmers.

&#8226 Scheme is cash negative – I have to put in more than I get out.