7 April 2000

Policy is to lift farm efficiency

GOVERNMENT policy is to help farmers make their businesses more efficient, resilient and responsive, not to usher them out of the industry, MAFF has insisted.

Speaking after the rural summit, which included money for industry restructuring and diversification, farm minister, Nick Brown, appeared to accept that fewer people would be employed directly in farming in the future. But he qualified this by saying that the move towards fewer but larger farms was part of a long-term trend.

"We are not looking to downsize the industry or reduce the impact of farming on society. If anything we are trying increase it," a MAFF spokes-man said, adding that the ministry would not be drawn into predicting how many will leave the industry.

But under EU rules the restructuring part of the £26m package allocated to the pig industry, which could be trebled in three years, will only become available when the UK industry delivers a 16% reduction in capacity. The starting point is June 1998 so this may be satisfied without further reduction in sow numbers.

But the National Pig Association fears that there may little or nothing left for restructuring when grants have been paid to those already out of business and people now on the brink.

In an effort to encourage diversification generally, the government also intends to revise planning guidance and will offer a free consultancy service to farmers seeking planning permission. This will be backed by a doubling of the Redundant Building Grant Programme in rural areas to £8m.

From Sept 1 farmers will benefit further from £6.5m allocated to fund one-to-one on-farm advice by the Small Business Service.

The government will also launch a £0.4m "electronic portal for farming" to provide access to a single source of information and advice for farmers. &#42

PIGS

&#8226 Application made to EU Commission to pay state aid as part of three-year scheme to encourage restructuring of industry. Grant of £26m allocated this year with amounts in future years to be determined in spending review.

&#8226 IPPC regulations deferred until 2007 from 2004. System of "general and binding rules" put in place so initial permit charge should be less than half the £12,000-£18,000 proposed initially. Similar relief expected for main charging scheme.

&#8226 Food Standards Agency to review the ban on meat and bonemeal in pig feed.

&#8226 Government to support expected commission proposal for an EU-wide ban on sow stalls.

&#8226 Government to implement recommendations of red tape review on meat industry.