16 May 2001
Europe’s farmers slam ewe flat rate

By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

PLANS for a flat rate ewe premium worth Euro21 (13) from next year have been condemned by farmers in Europes main sheep producing countries.

Details of the premium are contained in new Brussels proposals. They are designed to make the sheep regime simpler and more market-oriented.

A European Union statement said the new system would let producers respond more readily to market signals.

“Replacing the existing deficiency payment with this known fixed amount will allow forward planning and simplify farm management.”

The Euro21 premium is the average amount paid between 1993 and 2000, said a commission official, though there had been some “rounding up”.

Milk sheep producers in southern member states will get 80% of this, while the Less Favoured Area supplement will be fixed at Euro7 (4.30) a head.

If Europes agriculture ministers agree, the new scheme will be “budgetary neutral”, costing an estimated Euro1.825bn (1.1bn) a year.

“That is within the Euro1.91bn ceiling set under Agenda 2000, so there is a bit of slack if ministers decide to pay more,” said a commission source.

Sheep farmers will receive one lump sum, instead of the current system of two advances and a balancing payment.

The money is likely to go out in November each year. Quotas will remain, although national ceilings will also be specified.

But sheep producers are far from happy.

Locking into the seven-year average takes no account of inflation and enshrines a stabiliser which cut support price by 7% in 1992.

“France has lost over 1m sheep in the past 10 years based on this average payment,” said Bertron Bouffartigue of the French Federation of Sheep Producers.

“We now have just 6m ewes and 50,000 breeders. The new budget should be at least Euro2.5bn if we are to improve revenues.”

John Deegan of the Irish Cattle Traders and Stock Owners Association was equally incensed. “This is a derisory amount,” he said.

“What is worse is that this will apply even when lamb prices are low.”

Both organisations have called on their agriculture ministers to fight for a better deal in the European Union farm council.

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