8 June 2001

Farm business advisers fight for £s after floods

By Isabel Davies

BUSINESS advisers in the south-east will seek additional funding so they can continue to offer three days of free advice to producers in the region.

Changes to the budget for the Farm Business Advice Scheme (FBAS) threaten to limit the number of farmers that can be helped in the area (News, June 1). But consultants say that, if necessary, they will look for alternative sources of income to keep the service going as planned.

They stress that although the area escaped the worst of foot-and-mouth, many farms are still struggling to cope with the after-effects of last autumns devastating floods.

Edwin Jones, farm business adviser for the Surrey region, said he needs an additional £30,000 to make his budget up to the levels he had been expecting.

He had expected enough money to pay for 50 farm visits. Instead he received enough to cover 17. "Ive already got a list of 20 farms wanting visits so technically I should close my books."

Mr Jones said looking for outside funds was frustrating but he would do it. "I shouldnt be out there with a begging bowl relying on charity to fund a scheme the government has introduced."

Rachel Potter, adviser for the county of Hants, is also facing a much smaller budget than she had anticipated and needs extra funds.

While the government was right to channel money to producers who had been directly affected by F&M it should have come up with new money to do this, said Ms Potter.

"It should be extra money, not money they have already pledged. This was money that was promised to help an industry which is struggling. We are still struggling."

Ms Potter said if more money was not forthcoming it could mean advisers would have to start being more discriminating about which farmers got their help.

"The official guidelines say anyone with a County Parish Holding (CPH) number is eligible for a visit. We may need to look at tightening the criteria so that we can make sure we see the people who most need assistance."

John Evans, business adviser for Sussex, said unless he got more money his books would be closed to new applicants almost immediately. But he added: "I have asked MAFF and other sources for more money so we dont have to do this." &#42