28 July 1995

Farmer tied up by

MAFF strait-jacket

By Philip Clarke

MAFFs inflexible approach to the sheep quota regulations has left one small farmer without the quota she tried to lease, without the money she paid for it and with little faith in the whole support system.

Joanne Clarke of Church Farm, Coaley, Glos, started sheep production with 15 ewes in 1991 – the base year for getting a quota. Two years later she bought another 30 units, giving her 45 units in total, and she has since built up the flock to about 100 ewes.

When the second transfer period for 1993 quota opened last December, she saw the opportunity to lease in another 30 units, having already applied unsuccessfully to the national reserve. Her cheque for £180 was duly sent to the lessor.

But in May of this year she was told by MAFF that she was not eligible to receive the quota.

Her mistake had been to use the wrong form when applying to the national reserve. "Both the 1994 and 1993 forms arrived very close together and I mistakenly applied for 1993 quota on the 1994 form," said Miss Clarke.

As far as the lessor was concerned, the quota had been leased out in good faith and there was no obligation to return the money. The lessor was not able to use the 30 units and did not have another opportunity to lease them out.

"The only chance Miss Clarke has is if she can persuade MAFF to take a more flexible view," said Tony Carver of Bruton Knowles National Quota Exchange, whose first responsibility as agent is to the lessor. "The quota system is riddled with this sort of scenario. MAFF just wont accept any mistakes."

MAFF said it was unable to comment on specific cases, but added it had strict criteria it had to adhere to.

Faced with these difficulties, Miss Clarke is now expanding into beef. "I am desperate to carry on farming," she said. "But like a lot of other young people, I am finding it hard to cope with all the bureaucracy. Clearly there is no margin for error." &#42

Joanne Clarke has had to turn to beef production as sheep became less viable due to the bureaucratic strait-jacket.