15 January 1999

MAFF wants to

know your view…

By Isabel Davies

FARM minister Nick Brown is to add to the mass of paperwork farmers have to contend with after announcing that a questionnaire, seeking views on CAP reform, will be sent to every producer in England.

Speaking at a conference of industry representatives on Monday, Mr Brown said the questionnaire would be part of a massive consultation exercise to determine the future structure of UK farming. The Scottish and Welsh offices will also seek industry views.

"This is a very important time for agriculture and rural communities. In March, EU agriculture ministers are expected to finalise Agenda 2000, a package of reforms which will shape the future of farming within Europe," Mr Brown said.

"I want everyone involved in the industry to have their chance to comment on the way in which CAP reform should be implemented in this country."

In particular, MAFF wants to know farmers views on national envelopes and how they might be allocated, the future role of set-aside, and priorities for rural development measures. Modulating support based on labour units, cross-compliance (linking payments to environmental criteria), and capping payments to individuals are other key areas for discussion.

There was general recognition among the representatives from a wide cross-section of farming, environmental and consumer groups attending the London conference this week that doing nothing was not an option.

But clear difficulties with some of the proposals emerged when the delegates reported back from discussion groups.

Although price cuts received general support for all sectors, it was argued there was a case for increasing the compensation.

Calls were also made for it to be compulsory for all the money in the national envelopes to be paid out to farmers. There has been widespread concern, based on past performance, that the UK government would not pay in full unless it had to.

Modulation was dismissed as unworkable and cross-compliance came under attack on the basis that it would disadvantage the UK if other EUmember states did not follow suit.

There was also general criticism that the reform proposals did not cover either sugar or sheep.

OPINIONSPLEASE ON

&#8226 National envelopes and how they might be allocated

&#8226 Future of set-aside.

&#8226 Modulation, based on labour units, cross-compliance and payment ceilings to individuals.

&#8226 Early retirement scheme as part of a package of rural development measures.

Nick Briddle, garden curator at Down House, Kent – home to Charles Darwin – with some of the cattle that have been re-introduced to the meadows there as part of a five-year project by English Heritage to restore the landscape to its appearance in the 19th century.