14 June 2002

MODULATION PLANS WILL TIE UP THOSE PRODUCERS BEST ABLE TO COMPETE

Sir Don Curry is a persuasive talker. He will need all his powers of persuasion to reassure UK farmers that his modulation proposals are far from fatally flawed.

Those powers were put to the test this week at a farmer meeting in Newark. It is easy to understand the criticisms levelled against the modulation proposals. Foremost is the fear that modulation will result in a mammoth self-serving bureaucracy which will hamstring UK producers efforts to compete in world markets.

What confidence can we have in a system that sees 3% of all direct support payments docked to benefit only 14% of eligible farmers? Why is Britain alone the only country doggedly pursuing modulation plans? Do British policy makers enjoy some special perspective which is unavailable to their counterparts in other EU countries? True there is talk of Germany introducing modulation plans next year. But, it seems, British producers alone are being tasked with the challenge of becoming even more competitive despite, not because of, UK support for modulation. What kind of sense can it make, on one hand to expect farmers to compete with the best of unfettered, and often government-supported, world competition, while on the other adopting the system that penalises those producers who are best placed to do so?

Why not adopt the cleaner, simpler and far less bureaucratic system of linking income support payments with the achievement of environmental aims?

But at the heart of many critics growing concerns about modulation is the uncertainty of whether the Treasury is prepared to fork out the £500m over three years that will be required to implement the proposals. Unless backed by the hard reality of government cash, Sir Dons words will remain just that – words. And all his skill at delivering them will not, without Treasury support, bring his vision for the future of British farming any closer to reality. We should think again before farmers pay the ultimate price.