9 May 1997

Court case may win quota increase for some UKdairymen

By Philip Clarke

UP to 100 dairy producers could receive additional milk quota, after a four-year legal battle through the British and European courts.

The case has been spearheaded by Oxfordshire farmer Ben Lay and Wiltshire dairy partnership Donald and David Gage, who, through London solicitors Dawson & Co, have argued they were allocated insufficient quota by MAFF.

Both producers bought part-holdings in the early 1980s which, at the time, were still involved in non-marketing of milk schemes. In order to allow the previous owners to continue receiving their "golden handshake" monies, both agreed not to run their cows on that land until the five-year schemes were completed.

The new owners fully intended to then start milking off that land. But that expectation was thwarted by the introduction of quotas in 1984. Despite efforts since, it was only with the introduction of SLOM 3 quota in 1993 that they managed to get any quota at all.

But the amount was disappoint-ingly small as MAFFs allocation was based on the proportion of the bought land to the non-marketing holding as a whole, rather than on the areas used for milk production. Most of the SLOM 3 quota, therefore, either went to the original owners or the national reserve.

"This left my clients, who had invested to expand their dairying, having to buy or lease-in quota to avoid super-levy," said Dawsons partner, Joanne Keddie. The matter was taken to the High Court, where it drew a blank, and subsequently to the European Court in Luxembourg.

And last week the advocate general gave his opinion that MAFFs interpretation was wrong and that SLOM 3 quota should have been allocated according to the areas used for milk production.

Final judgement is expected in the summer and Miss Keddie is confident it will uphold this opinion.

Almost 100 producers are in a similar position and they, like Messrs Lay and Gage, should be entitled to a larger share of the SLOM 3 quota. Separate litigation will deal with the question of compensation. &#42