29 August 1997

Members say No to NFU deal on weight cuts

By Shelley Wright

NFU members have rejected the unions proposal to ask government for a 6.6p/kg liveweight cut in over-30-month scheme payments in return for the removal of the 560kg payment ceiling.

But NFU leader Sir David Naish said he would not take a final decisionuntil he had a chance to meet farm minister Jack Cunningham.

"I shall be asking him to remove the weight limit, but not to impose any further price cuts. I have a huge responsibility for those with heavy cows to try and ensure that every kg is paid for," Sir David said.

The weight ceiling, along with an 11% cut in cull cow price, was introduced on Aug 1, saving government an estimated £29m a year. Widespread anger that the ceiling was unfair, especially for suckler producers with heavier cows, led the NFU to look for alternatives that could be presented to government. But DRr Cunningham had warned that any proposal must be budget neutral.

Sir David said: "I have never been faced with such a degree of disbelief and disgust from farmers who just cannot accept that the government can treat them in this high handed and unjustified way."

After weeks spent trying to get adequate figures from the Intervention Board to allow it to work out what drop in price would be needed to get the weight limit removed the union eventually arrived at the proposed 6.6p/kg cut. But officials have failed to show union members and the Press how they arrived at the figure.

While all NFU regions objected to the weight limit in principle, most did not accept that a further 6.6p cut was fair.

Sir David said he hoped to meet Dr Cunningham in the coming week. While he would ask for the ceiling to be lifted, without any further price cut, he said he did not want to offer producers any false hope that success was likely.

Situation changed

"But the situation has changed since I last saw Dr Cunningham in July. Weve had a further green £ revaluation and I believe the price cut and the introduction of the ceiling were Treasury-driven without anyone realising how many producers would be totally decimated by the decision."

At meeting in Devon last week Ian Pettyfer, Devon NFU chairman, warned that "the minority with heavy cows feel the NFU does not represent them if it accepts the weight limit. Im sure a number will leave the NFU and will be followed by small producers."

Speaking to Sir David before the announcement, Richard Haddock Devons NFU vice chairman also warned that many lowland suckler members with heavy cows were ready to leave the NFU if the weight limit stayed.