23 February 1996

Priority support for small units – SAFEadvice

By Shelley Wright

EU farm support should be targeted at small and medium farms, those in marginal areas, and those who farm in an environmentally-friendly way.

The recommendations come in a new report by the SAFE alliance, which says that the aim should be to retain a balanced farm structure. The UKs small family farms are disappearing with a 30% decline in their number in the past 20 years the report says.

Economic policies

There is more to agriculture than the production of the greatest amount of food at the least cost. "Farmers must run their businesses in an economic manner, but the framework created for them by policy makers should take into account the need to produce adequate amounts of healthy food, with due regard for animal welfare and the environment," the report states.

The objectives of retaining a balanced farm structure and encouraging agricultural employment would best be achieved not by moving towards a free market economy, but by careful targeting of agricultural support it says.

SAFE supports modulation of farm support with tapered payments and ceilings on the total level of support available for individual farmers, to prevent the majority of the funds going to larger businesses which dont need them.

"It is time to stop writing open ended cheques to farmers just for farming, and target support on the types of farmers and farm practices which would disappear if each farmer was forced to go for economies of size and maximum production at a minimum price."

Maintaining small farms is the only way to allow new entrants into farming.

And if support was targeted towards the smaller units then it could help sustain rural jobs and provide landscape and conservation benefits.

And while the report recognises that modulation has met "much resistance" from the UK government and the larger farming unions, it says that "the concept has much support amongst many of the smaller farming unions."

The report also suggests that consideration should also be given to redistribution of existing quota through a siphon or tax, and the reintroduction of free advice for smaller farmers.