3 August 2001

Flax growers to continue battle for overdue £s

By Robert Harris

FLAX growers are stepping up their fight to secure thousands of £s in overdue payments from their crop processor.

Several farmers who grew crops for the Industrial Crop Partnership and its Cornwall-based processing arm, Tamlyn, contacted farmers weekly to complain that they have been awaiting balancing payments from 1999 crops since last autumn. Some have persuaded the NFU to take up their case.

Under the EU flax regime, a grower can receive all the area aid or it can be split between the grower and the primary processor. However, ICP/Tamlyns contract for the 1999 crop stipulated that the company would pass on an amount equal to the area aid payment, less agreed costs, to growers within 30 days of it receiving payment from the Intervention Board.

When questioned by FW (Business, May 4), Steven Rudkin – the then ICP/Tamlyn managing director – confirmed he would settle all final payments by the end of June. Almost five weeks later, growers are still waiting.

Rhianne Ebsworth, who farms with her husband Andrew at Brunant Farm, near Whitland, Carmarthen, grew 200 acres of flax for ICP/Tamlyn in 1999.

She says her cheque was due last November. "The Intervention Board told me in October 2000 that it had paid all the 1999 money to ICP. Butwe are still owed over £34,000 nearly two years after harvesting the crop."

The couple received one interim payment of £11,278 last April.

Richard Hooker, of Madams Court Farm, Sittingbourne, Kent, reckons he was due more than £16,700 from ICP for his 1999 crop. But after two interim cheques, he is still owed almost £5700 in outstanding aid payments. "If we phoned once, we phoned a dozen times."

The NFU is investigating the case to try to secure payment for its members, but was unable to comment. The IB is also taking a keen interest, but would not go into details. "Following representations from farmers and the NFU, the Intervention Board is looking at the relationship of ICP and the farmers concerned," said a spokesman. "There are still a few outstanding payments to be made."

Paul Kettle says he is now an unpaid joint managing director of ICP/Tamlyn following Mr Rudkins recent resignation. "It has never been our intention to hang on to the money. But the Intervention Board still owes us about £50,000 for the 1999 crop. It has stopped all payments to ICP/Tamlyn, so there is no point auditing the last couple of farmers final figures at the moment.

"Our £1m plant has been mothballed. Changes to the EU flax regime means you no longer have to process straw, so it really put the dampers on. But we are exploring other areas. We intend to remain solvent and pay farmers every penny they are owed."

Mrs Ebsworth holds out more hope for the £52,000 she reckons she is owed for the 2000 crop following an announcement that the IB has also stopped payment to ICP/Tamlyn of a seven-figure sum relating to that year.

"I dont care what happens to it, as long as ICP dont get it," she says.