2 November 2001

F&Mblamed for arable aid block

By Tom Allen-Steven

A MINISTER who refused to grant £57m in aid for arable growers blamed the decision on the cost of compensating livestock farmers for foot-and-mouth.

Junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley said it was too expensive to pay agrimonetary aid to arable farmers who have seen subsidies slump before a deadline expired on Wednesday (Oct 31). There were "many competing demands on the Exchequer at present, not least the cost of eradicating foot-and-mouth," he added.

The decision was criticised by arable farmers and rural businesses. NFU deputy president Tim Bennett said: "If ministers continue to work against our efforts to turn farming fortunes around, it will put this industry out of business as a mainstream player."

Mr Bennett said British farmers deserved to be rewarded for their huge advances in animal welfare and care for the environment. Labour has granted arable farmers just £738m out of an available £2bn in agrimoney from Brussels since it came to power in 1997, he added.

The Country Land and Business Association accused the government of suffering from "a plain lack of understanding about rural issues." CLA policy director Allan Buckwell said reluctance to pay agrimonetary aid sent a shocking signal at a time when the industry was on its knees.

"Over the last three years US farmers, for example, havent suffered anything like as much as UK farmers. Yet their government recognises that you cant just walk away from a sector so exposed to the weather and market fluctuations."

The Treasury is known to have reviewed its spending plans following the terror attacks in the US. But NFU cereal committee chairman Richard Butler said: "Not claiming the money means a larger rebate for the treasury, which can be spent elsewhere. But this is a windfall they havent budgeted for."

Mr Butler said he hoped common sense would prevail when the governments commission on the future of farming reports back to ministers at the end of the year. "Cuts to direct aid support on top of the current income crisis will ruin many arable businesses," he said.

This year is the last for which payments can be claimed, although they are spread over three successive years. &#42