By Philip Clarke

EMERGENCY aid of $475 million (297m) is being given to US oilseed producers to compensate for this seasons low prices.

The money part of the $8.7bn (5.4bn) farm bail-out agreed by President Clinton last autumn will be shared out among the countrys 850,000 producers who grew an oilseed crop in 1999.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates this will pay a typical 100-acre soybean farmer about $533 in direct aid.

Dairymen were granted $125m (78m) in aid last month, on top of a similar $200m (125m) handout last summer.

The money is available on the first 2.5m litres, although exact terms have yet to be calculated.

And sheep producers are being offered $100m (63m) of aid to help with low prices, new buildings, flock improvements and scrapie eradication.

We are committed to helping American sheep and lamb farmers who are threatened by a surge of low-priced imported lamb meat, said US agriculture secretary, Dan Glickman.

But the US approach has been criticised by farmers representatives this side of the Atlantic.

According to Wesley Aston, commodities director for the Ulster Farmers Union, the latest subsidies prove that the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act is not working.

The US government is stepping in sector by sector to bail out its producers. This just shows that support is needed and that the Agenda 2000 reforms do not need to be taken any further, as the US has suggested.

But a senior US representative in Brussels was quick to point out that the subsidies were well within the limits set under the last GATT agreement, and added that they were not trade-distorting since they did not influence future planting decisions.

With the election coming up, and with a large financial surplus, further aid is expected as politicians seek crucial farm voters.

  • Additional support of $11.5bn (7.2bn) to boost farm incomes, encourage conservation and subsidise crop insurance programmes is contained in the Clinton administrations budget proposal for 2001. This would come on top of the $15 (9.4bn) emergency aid approved in the past two years, to help US farmers cope with tough market conditions
  • Aussie outcry over US farm aid, FWi, 15 February, 2000