21 June 2002

Funding shortfall denies access to green schemes

AGRI-ENVIRONMENT schemes in Scotland are unavailable to most farmers due to a lack of funding, says NFU Scotland.

And the use of modulation to divert a percentage of farmers direct support payments to such schemes has proved grossly unfair, it maintains.

"About 15,000 Scottish producers suffer modulation," says union president, Jim Walker. "Yet, only 1000 farmers actually benefit by being awarded grants for agri-environment schemes that this modulated money goes to fund."

He estimates that, of the £7.5m deducted from Scottish producers direct payments each year, about £3m – or 40% – of that comes from arable farmers.

"But the agri-environment schemes we have at the moment, like rural stewardship, the organic aid scheme, ESAs and so on, are just not broad enough to allow money back to the cereal sector, in particular," says Mr Walker.

With the French having abandoned modulation, the UK was now alone in the EU in implementing the policy.

"If we are going to carry on with it then we must have changes so that money taken from farmers is either ring-fenced by area or by sector so that everyone has a fair chance to recoup what they lose."

Rog Wood, chairman of the unions environment and land use committee, adds that a broader mechanism than exists has to be found.

"There are plenty of farmers out there who want to make environmental improvements and who have some excellent ideas. But these cost money, either through lost production or extra costs, or both.

"The EU has said that every member state has to provide help for farmers towards these costs, but it has left it up to the member states to decide how that help is to be provided and how much is to be allocated," says Mr Wood.

"When these sorts of financial decisions are left to the UK government, we know from past experience that we lost out compared with our EU neighbours."

After Frances decision to abandon modulation, the UK is now alone in the EU in implementing the "rob Peter to pay Paul" policy, Mr Wood says.

"We believe the EU should decide the size of the budget and set it at a reasonable level to ensure everyone gets a fair share." &#42