1 April 2000

Justice at last for UK wheat

Bar the shouting, the battle is over. The UK intervention system is undergoing a minor revolution, as Gilly Johnson reports.

IT PAYS to protest. Thanks to our campaign, and determined lobbying by the NFU, MAFF has agreed the justice of our cause.

Following its "Red tape" review, set up last year by Nick Brown to reduce the regulatory burden on agriculture, MAFF has accepted the main recommendations and is asking the Intervention Board (IB) to make changes. MAFF doesnt have the power to give the intervention system a thorough overhaul; EU agreement is needed. But MAFF is to fight our cause for further reform and hopes to succeed by next year.

"Its not going to make intervention an easy option for UK growers, but it should mean that we will be less disadvantaged in Europe. The fact that the vast majority of UK wheat has been excluded from intervention support for the last eight years was completely unfair, and MAFF has recognised this," says Jonathan Pettit of the NFU. "We want to make sure that when the intervention mechanism needs to click in to support the domestic market, then sufficient quantities of UK grain will be able to find entry.

"Weve also had a great deal of help and co-operation from MAFF and the Intervention Board," he says.

In our campaign, Crops readers asked for:

Cheaper test fees 4

Under the old rules, a single 500t lot would have cost more than £400 in test fees. MAFF and the Intervention Board (IB) have agreed that this is unfair, particularly in comparison with cheaper fees abroad. The new fee is to be £182 plus VAT.

Just as important is that samples from each 500t lot can be aggregated, and tests done on just one aggregated sample for an offer greater than 500t. This is what happens in France, says Mr Pettit. "Not only does this lead to a huge reduction in costs but theres the ability to average quality across the whole bulk."

The IB have insisted on full tests being done on each 500t portion of an offer, with the whole bulked offer facing rejection if any one of these tests fail. MAFF is asking for permission to relax this strict interpretation of the rules. So this point remains to be clarified.

In situ stores 4

Theyve been operational in France, with store operators paid a commercial fee, but not in the UK. This caused much annoyance for traders and growers, because it forced grain to be hauled sometimes long distances at the growers expense into official stores. The IB is to review this policy and has suggested that a fair payment will be made for new in situ storage.

Fair play with quality criteria 4

There are changes to the spec demanded for entry into intervention, which will apply from 1 July. Its not going to make it easier for British grain to meet the standards – but the effects will be felt more in other member states.

The changes cover protein, moisture, specific weight, machinability and zeleny – see the table below. The commissions stated aim is to make intervention grain more acceptable to world market requirements.

"In reality, the changes will make intervention standards that bit more difficult for EU producers to meet," says Mr Pettit. It could affect the French more than the UK because so much more of their wheat finds its way into intervention.

A key point is that national derogations on moisture will not now be allowed. Formerly, each member state has been able to request derogations after a wet harvest. "Its not ideal for us – wed have preferred a 15% standard – but at least its universal."

A dry matter protein spec appears for the first time, rising over the next two seasons, to pull up the true breadmaking quality of intervention grain. The 220 hagberg requirement stays, despite lobbying by the French following their difficult harvest in 1999. Zeleny requirement rises to 22, but there is still a machinability requirement where this is under 30. The UK had argued for the end of the machinability test, because it is not commercially useful, and discriminates against UK wheats which tend to produce sticky doughs which fail.

Weblinks:

The Intervention Board has a website at www.ib-uk.gov.uk

Go to "Scheme guides and other publications" a copy of the report by the Intervention System Red Tape Working Group.


Common wheat Barley Rye

Max moisture 14.5% 14.5% 14.5%

Specific weight kg/hl 73 (72) 62 70 (68)

Protein % DM:

  00/01 marketing year 10%

  01/02 marketing year 10.3%

  02/03 marketing year 10.5%

Hagberg 220 120 (100)

Zeleny 22 (20)

Penalties:

Only grain with a moisture content of 14% will receive the full intervention price. In addition, wheat must have a 76kg/hl specific weight (barley, 64kg/hl) to receive the full price. Penalties will also apply for protein on a sliding scale from 11.5% down.