1 September 1995



European arable farmers have become increasingly dependent on official support for their profits – and that makes them uneasy. That was a strong message from a gathering in Eire under Cibas European Farmer Twinning project. Andrew Blake reports

BOTTOM line calculations for six farmers, representing Denmark, France, east and west Germany, Ireland and the UK, show none would be making any money without area aid.

The vulnerability of systems relying so heavily on the whim of politicians was a recurring theme.

"Were now farming the system and making the most of the money we get through the post," commented host farmer Eires Jim McCarthy.

Figures for his 441ha (1090-acre) unit based at Marburn Farm, Marshalstown, Castle Dermot, south-west of Dublin, show that in 1993 70% of his profit came from EU aid. This year he expects the figure to be 120%.

The difficulty of making accurate comparisons between countries was highlighted during the meeting. And the extent to which various national aid schemes and set-aside costs impinge on the outcome remained unresolved.

Even so, most of the other growers costings show them relying very much on aid to stay in business.

Ted Kallehave of the 1000ha (2470-acre) Lilliendale Estate at Mern, Denmark, estimates one third of the profit from his wheat now comes from EU aid – up from 23% in 1993.

Udo Böhme, manager of 5450ha (13,500 acres) of leased land near Leipzig, east Germany, has seen the figure rise from 10% in 1992 to 40% this year, and he anticipates it reaching 45% next season.

Carl Christian von Plate runs two farms in west Germany – 402ha (930 acres) close to the North Sea near Hamburg and 307ha (760 acres) near Hanover. "Public transfer" cash to the farms has increased "dramatically" since 1990, when it accounted for less than 2% of income.

This year he expects to receive six different types of aid, some from internal state funds. "More than 30% of our income will come from official help, and thats almost 100% of the profit. I am therefore most worried because it can also go." But even he was unable to relay detail of all the schemes. "We just try to make sure we fill out all the forms," he said.

UK representative Richard Beldam, vice-chairman of Group Cereals Services and running 1230ha (3040 acres) at Broadway, Worcs, reckons between 21% and 39% of his profits this year will come from EU aid, depending on ultimate support levels and movements in sterling. Next season it could be a "worrying" 50%. "But in our case none of it is from the state."