6 September 1996

MAFF top-up cuts anger leaders

By Shelley Wright

MAFF has infuriated farming leaders, yet again, by cutting the top-up payment for steers and heifers slaughtered under the 30-month scheme to just 5p/kg liveweight.

Farm minister, Douglas Hogg, confirmed that the new rate would apply from Aug 30 until Nov 2, after which time top-up payments for clean beef would end.

Clean beef cattle over 30 months old will still be eligible for the scheme. But MAFF confirmed that the payment will be 83.38p/kg liveweight, the rate currently paid for cull cows. The decision to cut the payments, from the previous rate of 10p/kg liveweight, reflected current market conditions.

He added: "We have always made clear that this payment was a temporary measure, designed to allow producers time to adjust their production systems for steers and heifers, and that it would consequently be available for the first six months of the scheme only."

The NFU was extremely disappointed at the announcement. Sir David Naish, NFU president, said the cut would have a severe impact on the already beleaguered beef sector. And Scottish NFU vice-president George Lyon attacked it as yet another body blow to hard-pressed beef farmers.

"Producers still holding over-30 month prime cattle which, through no fault of their own, they have been unable to get away for slaughter under the scheme will be very disappointed," he said.

The top-up rate should have been maintained at 10p/kg in recognition of the extra costs that producers faced in having to keep the animals. And he said the abolition of extra payments from Nov 2 would also force producers to finish animals below 30 months. That would mean more beef going into the human food chain, putting further pressure on the already depressed prices in that sector.

The Country Landowners Association was extremely concerned that producers who had been unable to get cattle into the scheme, because of the limited processing capacity, should be further penalised by a cut in payments.

Initially the top-up rate was 25p/kg liveweight, but that was cut twice, leaving the rate from July 14 to Aug 31 at 10p/kg liveweight. But MAFF says it will honour its promise to pay the full 25p rate for any cattle that were over 30 months old on June 17 and are still awaiting slaughter.n