22 December 2000

MAFF lifts limit on beef special premium claims

By James Garner

BEEF finishers will be able to make more than 90 beef special premium claims/year following MAFFs decision to lift the limit after consultation.

The announcement last week by farm minister Nick Brown confirmed that from the New Year the 90-head limit will be removed, allowing finishers to make more claims on bulls and steers, according to their forage area.

Although this should mean better incomes for beef finishers, whose businesses had previously been capped, it has met a mixed reaction from the industry.

The National Beef Association welcomes MAFFs decision, viewing it as a victory rewarding its two-year campaign to have the limit lifted. But the NFU has described the result as a "mixed bag".

That provoked an angry response from NBA chief executive Robert Forster, who called on the NFU to decide which side of the fence it was sitting on.

Their differences focus on the NFUs stance to protect small beef producers by insisting their incomes be protected from any scale-back in payments, if the national premium ceiling is exceeded next year.

The lifting of the limit could make this breach more likely, but MAFFs ruling ensures any beef producers with 30 or fewer total BSP claims will be paid the full amount.

NFU livestock committee chairman Les Armstrong says it is just a gesture to placate those worried about the fate of small farmers.

"It is a complication for MAFF and is of little benefit to small producers, who need more help."

But Mr Forster says lifting the limit will benefit all within the UK beef industry. "It will safeguard the finishing sector and create more demand for suckled calves and store cattle."

And he thinks there is little chance that UK beef producers will exceed the national premium ceiling anyway, predicting that 25,000 BSP units will remain unclaimed this year.

This years data could be irrelevant, anyway. Some observers believe other factors are more likely to prevent the UK exceeding its 1.5m BSP claim ceiling next year because BCMS data reveals that calf registrations are down. And the MLC says the breeding herd is also down by 2% on the year.

Producers also seem unsure whether lifting the limit is a good thing. One manager of a 3000-head finishing unit in East Anglia says any gain will be limited by forage area.

At Manor Farm, Bridgham, there is 100ha (247 acres) of this, currently entitling it to 180 claims on steers before they are two years old, says Philip Dale.

After the limit is lifted, it will be able to make 333 BSP claims on that forage area, and assuming there is no claw-back it will accrue an extra £11,500 on steers.

Mr Dale reckons that most of the benefit will be lost through having to pay extra for strong stores with a claim left.

Jim Walker, president of the Scottish NFU, welcomed the decision, which will take effect from Jan 1. "We have been working on achieving this for more than a year.

"The end of the limit will help remove market distortions. These additional payments to producers will be new money accessed directly from European Commission budgets which we have been denied access to because of the arbitrary imposition of the limit in the first place," he said. &#42