15 March 2002

Pay sheep money as top-up say NFU

By Philip Clarke

ALL the money in the new sheep national envelope should be paid as an across-the-board top-up to all English producers, and not frittered away in fancy quota buy-up or environmental schemes.

That is the response of the NFU to DEFRAs consultation on the new sheepmeat regime, which closes for comments today (Friday).

"Scotland and Wales have already indicated they will be paying their top-ups to everyone for the first year of the new scheme," says NFU livestock adviser, Kevin Pearce. "That is by far the most effective use of the funds and should be matched in England."

Flawed suggestions

Following last years reform of the EU sheep regime, Brussels has put an extra k1/head (62p/head) into a national envelope, over and above the k21/head (£13/head) flat rate ewe premium.

The money, which amounts to about k8.67m (£5.35m) in England, may be used for a range of things, including targeted measures to reduce stocking rates. DEFRA is also interested in a sheep quota buy-up scheme.

"DEFRA is approaching this with two pre-conceptions – that there are too many sheep and that they cause environmental damage. Both suggestions are flawed," says Mr Pearce.

Where there is over-grazing, existing scheme rules already provide for subsidies to be withheld, he explains. And December census figures show that the English breeding flock has declined from 9m in 1999 to 8.1m in 2000 to 6.7m in 2002 – a drop of 75%. "If anything we are in danger of seeing under-grazing."

The NFU believes that, rather than trying to apply new blanket measures, DEFRA should undertake a detailed study to understand what is really happening in the sheep industry before inventing new schemes.

The National Sheep Association, in its response to the consultation, is also concerned that DEFRA will want to use an option to take another k1/head (62p/head) off all ewe premiums to supplement the funds in the national envelope.

This would effectively reduce the payment for most English producers to just k20/head (£12.36/head). With producers in Wales and Scotland already promised k22/head (£13.60/head), such a move would lead to severe market distortions for finished lambs and GB quota. &#42