28 March 2000
NFU offers deal for cash aid

By Johann Tasker

THE National Farmers Union has pledged to move away from intensive farming methods in return for a farm aid package from Tony Blair.

The commitment is one of 10 pledges contained in a document which will be presented to Mr Blair at the Downing Street summit on Thursday (30 March).

A summary of the key points of the document underlines the unions belief that top-quality, safe food production remains the core business of farming.

But in exchange for an aid package from the prime minister, it promises to enter into a contract which it believes will secure a better future for farmers.

The summary of the document commits the NFU to “seek further efficient reductions in chemical applications and animal medicines”.

Furthermore, the union promises to ensure an “open and full debate on animal welfare” and encourage the production of energy and non-food crops.

In return, the union wants the government to unlock more than 200 million to offset the effects of the strong Pound, which has reduced farm subsidies.

It wants support for hill farmers to be maintained at levels eqivalent to the last two years, and the removal from farmers shoulders of BSE-related costs.

The union is calling for the further removal of what it describes as “the excessive burden of regulation which suffocates farmers”.

It is also demanding support for labelling and marketing, including the development of a kitemark to promote British food.

Mr Blair has told the union that any money for farmers must be linked to environmental measures and the re-structuring of the farming industry.

The NFU is now set to encourage farmers to take appropriate action by urging more producers to join the governments agri-environment schemes.

“The challenge for farmers is to find new ways to respond to the needs of the market, while more efficiently protecting the quality of the countryside,” it said.

Ben Gill, NFU president, said that offering the 10 commitments showed producers were willing to play their part in securing a future for farming.

But unless short-term aid is forthcoming from the government, much of the industry would not be able to fulfil the pledges, he added.

“In order for us to be able to fulfil these long-term commitments, we need government help now to fight our way out of recession,” said Mr Gill.

The summit on Thursday is a vital opportunity for the government to demonstrate that it is also committed to us.”

If farm aid is forthcoming, the union has also pledged to “work to examine the potential for increasing UK production of organic food”

In addition, it wants to help create more competitive, forward-looking and dynamic businesses by encouraging farmers to grasp advances in technology.