22 April 1999
MAFF proposals could restructure uplands

By FWi staff

PROPOSALS that could signal a wholesale restructuring of the uplands are included in a consultation document published by the Ministry of Agriculture.

The paper, which follows the recent release of similar documents in Scotland and Wales, proposes a shift away from headage payments to area-based subsidies.

There is also a proviso that subsidies would be paid only if producers farmed a minimum area in an environmentally sensitive way for a minimum five-year period.

European Union (EU) rules driving the changes come into effect on 1 January, 2000, and any new UK schemes must be submitted to the EU Commission by the autumn.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown launched the consultation document, titled Supporting the Hill Farmer, early this afternoon in London.

Falling prices and rising costs meant hill farmers had become increasingly dependent on subsidies, Mr Brown told Farmers Weekly

It was neither feasible nor desirable to insulate farming in these regions from the impact of market forces, he said.

“The current situation could not be maintained and, therefore, tying payments to a historic reference year was not an option.”

Mr Brown accepted that switching to area aid would mean a redistribution of payments and that some farmers would lose out.

A flat rate payment per hectare could give farmers the freedom to diversify.

But the consultation document suggests differentiated payment rates from a minimum of Euro25/ha (£16.50/ha) up to Euro200/ha (£132/ha).

One option for the new payment regime would be a basic payment, with top-ups for producers meeting more stringent measures.

The consultation document also seeks views on the idea of higher payments made to producers with mixed stocking regimes.

Mr Brown concluded that he was wholeheartedly behind the move from headage to area payments.

But he said he sympathised with producers worries that tenant farmers would lose an important asset to their landlords if subsidies moved to area payments.

“The payments are intended as a producer support,” he said.

“The point of the consultation exercise is to establish a way that it remains in the hands of the producer but without distorting market payments.”