28 August 1998

Harder to qualify for extensification aid?

By Robert Harris

UP to half the beef farmers receiving extensification premium could be prevented from doing so within two years.

The moves are contained in Agenda 2000 draft legislation, which Francis Mordaunt, of consultants Andersons, believes will survive basically unchanged. "If I am right, only genuinely extensive systems will be eligible and cattle will have to graze grass for at least part of the year."

Extensification payments of £28 a head are paid for stocking rates below 1.4 livestock units a forage hectare and £40 a head for less than 1 livestock unit. But the stocking rate is not a true reflection of actual practice, since it is only calculated on animals receiving subsidies, allowing many intensive producers to claim, says Mr Mordaunt.

About 72% of total premiums in 1995 included extensification payments, he says. "Little has changed since then. It equates to 2.688m claims." For example, a farmer finishing 400 cattle under 24 months can claim for 90 beasts. At this age, each one is judged to be 0.6 livestock units. That means he is deemed to be finishing 54 livestock units, although, he is actually finishing 240 (400 beasts x 0.6).

If he is growing 55 forage hectares to support his enterprise, the stocking rate works out at 0.98 livestock units a hectare, so the farmer can receive maximum extensification payment. Under the new proposals, the same farmer will have to divide his total number of livestock units – 240 – by the forage area, which works out at 4.36 livestock units a hectare.

Those in less favoured areas who may still be eligible stand to gain, Mr Mordaunt says. "Although the super extensification limit will be abolished, payments for under 1.4/ha will increase to 100 ecus, about £70 a head."

But qualifying producers may have to file claims after 2000, since automatic payment is set to end. &#42