22 January 1999

Consultation –

pros and cons

By Shelley Wright

FARM minister Nick Browns consultation with the industry on reform of the common agricultural policy presents both threats and opportunities, the NFU believes.

Richard Macdonald, union director general, said the threat came from the possibility that there would be diverse reactions from the farming community, especially when it came to issues such as whether capping of individual farm subsidies or modulation based on labour units should be introduced.

Simple question

The union feared that many farmers asked the simple question about whether or not modulation and capping should be introduced, would say Yes.

With the NFU opposed to both, president Ben Gill said the challenge for all union officials and council members in the coming weeks was to "articulate the sensible arguments".

But pig committee chairman Graham England, who farms in Devon, insisted there were very strong feelings about the benefits of modulation and capping in the south-west and that the NFUs opposition to the policies was not fully supported in the region.

Equally, in the hills, Peter Allen, chairman of the unions less favoured areas committee, believed that many farmers would say they were in favour when the ministry asked if hill payments should be area-based rather than paid on livestock headage.

"They dont understand the full implications and it is up to us to put across the full picture," he said.

Mr Allen believed that a move to area payments would result in the large-scale depopulation of livestock from the hills.

The belief of many, that capping the support payments to large-scale farmers would mean more money for small, family farmers, was misguided, the union insisted.

Any money saved would go back to the European Central Fund and there was no indication that the cash would find its way back into agricultures budget, especially with Germany so keen to reduce its net contribution to the overall EU budget.

"I also strongly believe that capping at this stage would result in a ratcheting down of support in future. The budgetary pressures are enormous," Mr Gill said. "We are fundamentally opposed to the principle of capping."

And the proposal to modulate subsidies, based on labour units, was also questionable. That decision, and payment ceilings, could be left to national governments – which could lead to trade distortions across the EU, the NFU maintained.