11 June 1999
Farm leaders dismiss modulation

by FW reporters

A MEETING of National Farmers Union county chairmen has decided it would be counter-productive to pursue an upper limit on farm subsidies.

The county chairmen voted against any form of modulation where the cash saved would have to be diverted to schemes which require government match-funding.

Under the European Unions Agenda 2000 package, national governments could cut direct subsidy payments to farmers by up to 20%.

They could then use the savings for agri-environment and forestry schemes, hill livestock payments or an early retirement scheme.

All those would fall under the EUs rural development package and would require member states to match the money spent on the schemes.

If that did not happen, the EU Commission would reclaim any savings from direct payments.

After the meeting, Devon county chairman, Richard Haddock, admitted he had voted against modulation, despite many in his area supporting the concept.

Unless my members want me to take on the government in the hope that it can be persuaded to come up with match-funding there seems no point in pursuing those forms of modulation, he said.

The only possible modulation realistically available was through a top-up for livestock premiums by a beef national envelope, Mr Haddock added.

The south-west branch of the NFU recently sent a proposal to the unions national livestock committee suggesting suckler cow premiums should be boosted on the first 25 cows in each herd.

But the suggestion was defeated by three votes during a committee vote.

According to Mr Haddock, the main argument against the proposal was that it would also give extra money to good-lifers and professionals, such as lawyers and doctors, who also had part-time farms.

A series of meetings is being planned in the south-west to give members the chance to suggest how they want the government to allocate national envelope funds.

Meanwhile, at last weeks NFU Wales-Cymru council meeting, delegates agreed that modulation should be given further consideration, but only if the money saved was guaranteed to stay in Wales and was matched by money from central government.

The council also insisted that any money cut from direct payments should be spent on mainstream farming and not on agri-environment or early retirement schemes.

But senior NFU policy advisers in London said that was not possible under the Agenda 2000 deal.