5 February 1999

One member, one vote – endorsed

DELEGATES at the NFU annual meeting in London this week unanimously endorsed changes to the unions constitution which include the move to one member, one vote for electing the governing body, NFU council.

The changes also mean that, from next year, the NFU president will be elected for a two-year term. The post of vice-president will also be reintroduced, with the officeholder working alongside a deputy president.

The one-member, one-vote system will be used to elect council members from next year.

But the membership will still not have a direct vote in national officeholder elections, that responsibility remains with council.

The changes were originally proposed last year by a reform working group chaired by Shropshire farmer Richard Watson-Jones.

Instead, council agreed small working groups for the two sectors should be established within the livestock committee.

Hill farm aid switch to give unfair distribution

PLANS to switch aid for hill farmers from headage to area payments, being discussed as part of the EU CAP reform package, could lead to a massive and unfair redistribution of support money.

Peter Allen, chairman of the NFUs less favoured areas committee, said: "Too many people just plucked the idea of area payments from the air without looking at the real implications."

Any move to area aid would result in widescale redistribution of subsidy money. "For example, a 27,000 acre shooting estate in Scotland, with 300 sheep that belong to the gamekeeper, would suddenly be eligible for area payments. That is not a fair redistribution. If we have to go down the area aid route then the payments must be historically based," Mr Allen told the LFA surgery.

But he pledged to continue the fight to block the proposal.

Another issue vexing hill producers, in common with farmers in all other sectors, was the need for a government retirement scheme. So many were trapped, unable to afford to leave their farms. They had to be given a chance to retire from farming with some dignity, clearing the way, too, for young people to get in to the industry, said Mr Allen.

Peter Allen: Too many fail to consider the full implications of introducing area payments.

Fair deal for British farmers

WITH just a fortnight to go before EU farm ministers are expected to finalise the CAP reform package, the NFU has published a document calling on European and UK policy makers to ensure that British farmers get a fair deal.

The NFU is calling for:

&#8226 A common system of EUsupport that does not disadvantage farmers.

&#8226 Conditions attached to payments to be the same throughout the EU.

&#8226 Equal treatment for all producers, regardless of farm size.

Why you will pay for FSA

JUNIOR farm minister Jeff Rooker has defended the governments plan to charge all food retailers, regardless of size, £90 each to help fund the Food Standards Agency.

"First, the levy is so small that the bureaucracy would probably cost more than you were intending to collect. I would question whether businesses want to submit the detailed returns needed to work out different bands of levy.

"Second, inspection costs dont depend on the size of business. In the end, if you want to do the best by consumers, you need proper enforcement whether its the corner shop or the hypermarket."

said Mr Rooker.

He also confirmed that, while the FSA would have powers to intervene if imported food caused any public health risk, it would not be able to block imports just because they did not reach British production standards.

Jeff Rooker defended the decision to charge all food retailers an FSA levy of £90.

Generic milk ads would cost dear

GENERIC milk advertising could cost the industry money that it can ill afford and producers have no idea what return to expect from their investment.

Delegates at the milk and dairy products surgery said farmers are concerned about how the campaign should be funded.

Although producers support a national scheme in principle it could cost money that they do not have.

It has been estimated that a statutory levy of 0.4p/litre would be needed to cover the costs.

Farmers already pay a statutory levy to the MDC and many question the return on that investment, it was claimed. Many farmers simply did not know what their money was being spent on.

But NFU milk committee chairman Michael Lambert rejected the idea of using existing MDC levy funds to meet what has been estimated as a £10m bill. "The MDC levy is for research and development only and cannot be used for promotional activities," he said.

But the fact the suggestion had been made highlighted a the need for MDC to strengthen its communications with its members, he added.

The NFU milk committee voted in favour of the establishment of a national generic milk campaign last September after a consultation revealed member support.

EUbeef reforms heavily criticised across the board

EUbeef reforms heavily criticised across the board

By Shelley Wright

EU Commission Agenda 2000 plans to reform the beef sector drew severe criticism during the livestock committee surgery.

Kevin Pearce, NFU livestock adviser, told delegates there were serious worries about distributing some of the compensation for the 30% cut in intervention price through national envelopes. These would be co-financed by the EU and national governments. "In the past for UK farmers, co-financing has meant no financing," he said.

And the plan to cut suckler cow numbers was "crazy" and must be resisted at all costs, Mr Pearce insisted. Under the current proposals, the UKs 1.9m suckler herd would be cut by 300,000 head. That was lunacy when the long-term aim in the UK should be to switch more emphasis to the production of grass-fed prime beef.

The commissions proposals for an extensification premium, at a flat rate, was also distorted because it took no account of the different farming conditions within the EU. Lowland farms could carry more stock than hill units so it was essential that the policy makers took account of that and introduced different stocking rates.

Mr Pearce said extensification payments, if based on reality, should provide an excellent mechanism of providing compensation to grassland beef producers, both hill and lowland.

A single beef premium, paid at slaughter, was also favoured by the union.

Earlier in the day, however, EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler indicated that was unlikely to emerge in the final package.

because, after discussion, there was little enthusiasm for it from member states.

Minister hit by Welsh barrage

WELSH parliamentary under-secretary Jon Owen-Jones was met by a barrage of complaints at the Welsh Affairs Forum as farmers showed the depth of their despair and desperation.

He was told there was tremendous anger at the decision to pass back meat hygiene charges to the livestock industry. The government should continue to bear the cost at least until beef exports can be resumed, it was argued. If charges have to be introduced they should be made on a per animal basis and not per hour in order to protect the smaller abattoir.

The minister acknowledged the difficulties facing Welsh farming.

, he was able to offer little comfort. While the government had promised to cover the cost of SRM removal on a temporary basis it had to be passed back to the industry.

Responding to complaints about delays in HLCA and other subsidy payments the minister said there had been problems with the computer system. These had been addressed but he recognised they needed to do more.

Other issues raised were lack of information from the Welsh Office and the likely ending of the Calf Processing Scheme at the end of March.

A demand was also made for the NFU to get agreement on realigning the regional cereal yields agreed under the arable area payment scheme. Welsh cereal producers were disadvantaged by about £4.8/ha (£12/acre) with no justification compared with English growers, it was claimed.

Ieuan Wyn Jones, Plaid Cymru, also attending the Welsh Affairs forum, warned farmers not to lose control.