3 July 1998

Commission decides to double set-aside

By Philip Clarke

SET-ASIDE is to be doubled for the 1998/99 crop year in an attempt to reduce stocks.

Despite persistent objections from the French at last weeks four-day council session in Luxembourg, EU farm ministers finally accepted the commissions proposed 10% rate.

But the move has drawn sharp criticism from farmers in Britain. NFU president, Ben Gill, said it was "out of step" with the commissions objectives under the Agenda 2000 CAP reforms. "We are rapidly moving towards a free market-place when set-aside will no longer apply. The NFU believes we should be moving towards this situation, rather than regressing with a higher rate."

Pressure for the rise came from several sources. Apart from the desire to control stocks, some ministers, especially those facing elections, saw set-aside as a way of tightening the market and so lift prices to their farmers. The US has also been keen for the EU to lower production so as to cut the use of export subsidies for disposing of surpluses.

In addition to set-aside, ministers also agreed a cut in the rate of area aid for hemp growers by 7.5% – the same reduction as last year. This is to discourage so-called "premium hunters", taking aid down to 663ecu/ha (£449/ha).

For livestock farmers, the most significant decision has been to cut the deseasonalisation premium for Ireland (north and south) from a maximum £60 a head to £36 a head. This will be funded 100% from Brussels rather than 50%. This rewards farmers for slaughtering at least 35% of their stock in the autumn, rather than flooding the market in the spring.

Irish Farmers Association president Tom Parlon said winter beef finishers would be disappointed at the drop in value.

Support prices for cereals, dairy products and beef are all rolled over unchanged. &#42