MAFFto set out terms for premium payments
MAFF is to issue a guide to the environmental conditions attached to livestock premium payments in the New Year.
Speaking at the FWAG conference in Birmingham, junior farm minister Tim Boswell said the guide would offer farmers advice on how to avoid environmental damage. That was in line with MAFFs view that prevention is better than cure and advice better than penalties, said Mr Boswell.
But earlier he warned that the small minority of producers responsible for causing environmental damage needed to change their farming methods. If not, MAFF would not hesitate to use the powers it had taken to withhold livestock payments.
Mr Boswell said the UK was the only member state to have taken advantage of EU rules allowing environmental conditions to be attached to livestock payments to prevent overgrazing on heather moorland.
Livestock subsidies were vital to traditional farmers, who have shaped such landscapes. But they could not be used to intensify livestock production to the extent that damage occurred to the environment, said Mr Boswell.
MAFF had, therefore, taken powers to reduce subsidy payments, under all livestock schemes, where environmental damage was caused by overgrazing or supplementary feeding.
This was an example of the so-called principle of cross-compliance, which involves attaching conditions to payments. But the principle was "no more than a stop-gap", said Mr Boswell, and a useful tool in the short term in many areas.
MAFF wanted to deliver environmental benefits without raising the cost to farmers or increasing bureaucracy, he added.
Policy for the environmentally sensitive areas scheme, would continue to develop, and respond to new priorities, including the biodiversity agreement signed by governments at the Rio Earth Sum-mit, said Mr Boswell.
The countryside stewardship scheme, given an extra £10m funding in the Budget, would continue to grow as the governments main incentive scheme for the wider countryside outside ESAs.
A consultation paper would be issued shortly with full details of MAFFs plans to expand the scheme. Priority areas, outlined in the rural white paper, included restoration work on traditional stone walls, widening payments to cover other areas. *