25 February 2000

No fibre reform settlement yet

REFORMS affecting flax and hemp support (Arable, Dec 17) are most unlikely to be agreed before this seasons UK sowings.

That is the message from industry specialists after a meeting with ministry officials last week.

"There has been a lot of uncertainty about the subsidy," says Ian Low of hemp processor Hemcore. "But certainly the indication is that it is now virtually impossible for the proposals to go through in time for the coming spring."

Nigel Bazeley for Hants merchant Robin Appel believes some sort of reform is inevitable. "We know MAFF is in discussion with the EC. But not for this season. We are reasonably comfortable and are still taking flax contracts."

The NFUs Stuart Thomson believes it is "highly unlikely" that there will be any change in support for this seasons sowings.

Spanish growers, whose dramatically increased flax area spurred the reform moves, have to submit IACS forms by mid-March, notes Mr Thomson. "The Council wont meet until Mar 20/21, and the European Parliament which has to approve any proposals cant do so until at least April. We cant say categorically, but it is unlikely there will be a decision before May, and our own IACS deadline is May 15."

With over half the UK hemp and about 90% of the flax grown on non-IACS land, the proposal to cut support for both to linseeds level would hit production hard just when markets for plant fibres are taking off, says Mr Low.

Hemcore has just won two new supply contracts including one to a car panel maker for Mercedes-Benz. &#42

FIBRE AID

&#8226 MAFF & industry meeting.

&#8226 Cuts unlikely for this season.

&#8226 Reform time scale too tight.

&#8226 Growing demand for fibre.