21 December 2001

Ewe premium cash to double following new flat-rate deal

By Philip Clarke

Europe editor

SHEEP producers will see their ewe premiums more than double next year, following agreement for a new flat-rate payment reached in Brussels this week.

Returning to the deal they abandoned at last months council, EU farm ministers took little time to endorse the commissions proposal for a k21/ewe payment (about £13 at current exchange rates), with a k7/ewe top-up for less favoured areas.

They also agreed an extra k72m to go into a national envelope – equivalent to k1 per sheep – to be spent at member states discretion. The UK will get just over k20m, the largest share of any member state.

DEFRA Secretary, Margaret Beckett, also won a concession to take another k1/sheep from the k21 flat rate for the national envelope.

She wants to use this money for an English quota buy-up scheme to reduce over-stocking and to help with industry restructuring.

But Welsh farm minister, Carwen Jones, indicated he would use the cash for an across-the-board top up for the first year – an approach which is likely to be repeated in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The new sheep package is seen as a victory for EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, who has achieved his main aim of maintaining budget neutrality.

The package will cost the commission about k1.9m a year to operate, the average 1990s cost.

But even at k22 (including the national envelope) the new premium for 2002 is double this years forecast of k10.80/sheep.

That figure is one of the lowest ever, reflecting high Continental prices, and has exacerbated the UKs problems this year.

The NFU welcomed the fact that the uncertainty surrounding the sheep regime was over and that the complicated system of variable ewe premia was consigned to history.

"We would have liked to see more money, but it is better than the alternative of rolling over the current system for another year," said Peredur Hughes, chairman of the NFU in Wales.

But he had grave reservations about DEFRAs quota buy-up plans, pointing out that the UK is not self-sufficient in sheep meat and should not downsize the industry. &#42

French retreat on spine plan

FRANCE has backtracked on a plan to demand the removal of vertebral column from all sheep over six months old from Jan 1.

The move follows intense criticism from the European Commission, as it would have gone beyond EU rules.

The UK also attacked the French over their plan, because it would have seriously damaged the lamb export trade. France usually takes about 70% of UK exports.

Brussels had asked France to submit its scientific justification, but at this weeks farm council in Brussels, French minister, Jean Glavany, said he would not be going through with the plan.

The French meat trade had also raised concerns about the costs and practicality of removing vertebral column, he explained. And France did not want to distance itself from EU norms, Mr Glavany added.

"This is a positive move," said Kevin Pearce, sheep adviser at the NFU.

"There must be European rules for a European issue. It will mean that the good progress that has been made so far with the resumption of sheep exports can continue into the New Year."

UK sheepmeat prices have increased since exports resumed, from about 170p/kg deadweight in mid-November to 212p/kg for the week ending Dec 15. &#42

FW readers win live market victory

farmers weekly readers can claim an important victory.

Livestock markets for slaughter cattle, sheep and pigs will reopen in mid-February, 2002, and store cattle will be sold through markets under strict biosecurity measures. But the controversial 20-day standstill will remain.

Lord Whitty, junior DEFRA minister responsible for the food chain, told a press conference in London this week that he expects to be able to introduce an interim control regime from mid-February and that livestock markets will reopen from that date.

He also said there would "have to be changes" to the way the livestock industry works and in government regulation of it, under what he termed a "new normality".

Nearly a year after auctions were shut because of foot-and-mouth disease, markets up and down the country will heave a huge sigh of relief. And many livestock farmers will be looking forward to having transparent market pricing information at their fingertips.

We have had a phenomenal response to our joint campaign with the Livestock Auctioneers Association to get livestock markets reopened. We received 1500 letters addressed to Lord Whitty and the first 1388 were delivered to the minister at DEFRA headquarters in London on Tuesday.

Other letters that follow will be forwarded so the government recognises the true strength of public support that livestock markets have, and to ensure that DEFRA sticks to its timetable.

Peter Kingwill, chairman of the LAA, said: "It is a step in the right direction. The industry still has concerns over the 20-day rule being in place, but we recognise this is an interim measure and feel we can work with it at the moment." &#42

Success… Junior DEFRA minister, Lord Whitty (centre), accepts almost 1400 letters backing the Save Our Markets campaign from LAA chairman, Peter Kingwill (right) and FWs deputy Business editor, James Garner.