11 May 2001
NFU claims aid as sheep cash drops

By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

THE NFU is to claim special assistance for the sheep sector from Brussels, following the announcement of an exceptionally low ewe premium for 2001.

With sheep prices motoring elsewhere on the Continent, market managers meeting in Brussels this morning forecast a total premium for the year of 8.06/ewe.

That means the first 30% advance, to go out next month, will pay UK producers just 2.42/ewe, while the LFA supplement will be worth 3.67/ewe.

Last year the first advance was 3.35/ewe (plus 97p agrimoney compensation) and the premium for the whole year came to 10.73/ewe.

That in itself was a 3 decline on the previous season and 5 less than the year before that.

“The current situation is just atrocious,” NFU livestock chairman, Les Armstrong, told FWi.

“We will be going to Brussels in two weeks time and will apply for an exemption.

“There may not be a precedent for this, but this premium just does not reflect the position we are in with foot-and-mouth.

“UK producers are not in the same market as everyone else in Europe.

“The sheep annual premium has worked against us in the past because prices are not harmonised and the Pound-Euro exchange rate works against us. But this makes the situation far worse.

“British sheep producers need special assistance. The crisis does not end with the last case of foot-and-mouth. It only really begins.”

“It demonstrates that, as a country, we are divorced from the better things that can be done in Europe,” John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association told FWi.

“It makes me start to wonder where the future lies. There is no doubt that many sheep farmers are looking and wondering whether the stay in the industry.”

The setting of the new rate in Brussels today was achieved in surprisingly quick time.

Earlier in the week the commission was at loggerheads with member state experts, who believed the premium should be higher.

The commission is wary of paying too much in advance now, in case markets firm even more and it ends up having to reclaim money from producers later in the year.

“There is so much uncertainty in the market at the moment it is almost impossible to predict what average EU prices will be this year,” said a senior commission source.

Meanwhile, proposals for reforming the whole sheep regime – expected to call for a flat rate annual premium of Euro21 (13) a ewe – have been delayed for another week due to “technical difficulties”.

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