2 November 2001

Euro MPs call for big sheep premium rise

EURO MPs have called for a substantial rise in the new flat rate sheep premium when farm ministers meet to decide the issue next month.

Debating the impending reforms in Strasbourg, the MEPs voted for a new premium for next year of k30/head (£18.47). That is significantly higher than the k21/head (£12.93) being proposed by the EU commission and eclipses the k10.80/head (£6.65) forecast for 2001.

They also called for an LFA supplement of k9/head (£5.54), compared with the k7/head (£4.30) proposed, and suggested that payments for milk sheep should be the same as for meat animals.

A further amendment would see the first 100 ewes excluded from stocking rate calculations for extensification premium.

Labour MEP Gordon Adam, who prepared the report, told the parliament the current system was "manifestly unsatisfactory". Sheep farmers incomes had fallen behind other sectors while the method of calculating the premium was "statistically suspect".

Final decisions rest with farm ministers who meet in Brussels on Nov 19.

Some observers believe that, by going for such a big increase, the MEPs have lost credibility. The council will want to watch the budget, and the commissions proposal has been designed to keep costs close to the current k1.8bn/year (£1bn).

Significantly, however, the parliaments budget committee is supporting the suggested increase in ewe premium. "It is my opinion that there are sufficient funds to meet this request," said committee spokesman and Irish MEP John McCartin. &#42