7 January 2000

IT investment pays – MAFF

By Alistair Driver

SIGNIFICANT cost savings will be made if farmers can be encouraged to adopt information technology systems, a MAFF red tape review has concluded.

The report on the operation of the Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS), published just before Christmas, acknowledges that investment in IT is something many farmers are unable to do at the moment. But, describing IT development as the key to reducing regulatory burdens on producers, it calls on the government to make resources available to promote the use of available technology and to provide appropriate training and management packages.

The IACS group, chaired by Meat and Livestock Commission chairman Don Curry, published its review alongside a report on the operation of intervention in the UK by a group chaired by former Midland Bank agricultural director Norman Coward.

Following the meat hygiene review in mid-December, their release completes the red tape review of agriculture ordered by farm minister Nick Brown in September.

The IACS group found farmers want a reduction in paperwork and inspection and "consistency and fairness in scheme administration". Among the reports detailed recommendations are a number on reducing the quantity and timing of on-farm inspections. It also recommends the setting up of an independent appeals mechanism for farmers.

It calls for action at home and in Brussels, but concludes that EU regulations are restrictive with little room for manoeuvre.

The intervention working group criticised the UK government for its "sometimes over cautious approach" to the interpretation of EU intervention regulations. This, it said, has damaged UK competitiveness, which has also been affected by the greater role played by producer co-operatives in intervention in other member states.

The group concluded that intervention will have a significant role to play as a safety net mechanism in support arrangements for some years to come despite moves to reduce its impact in the ongoing reform of the CAP.

In calling on the government to provide UK producers an equal footing with their competitors, it made a number of recommendations to improve the operation of intervention, particularly in the cereal sector, where the greatest concerns are. Recommendations were also made in the beef, dairy and horticultural sectors.

Mr Brown welcomed both reports. He said the IACS report provided challenging objectives for both the government and the industry in making maximum use of IT. The government already has initiatives underway on reducing the number and timing of farm inspections, he added.

He also responded positively to the intervention report, acknowledging the need for UK producers to compete on a "level intervention playing field". He said he will respond to the reports in the New Year.

The NFU described the reports as "an enlightened and positive basis for progress in reducing the heavy burden of red tape on farmers and growers".