4 September 2000
Protect small farmer, say Lib Dems

By FWi staff

THE Liberal Democrats have called on ministers to protect small farmers by taking more money from larger units to fund environmental subsidy schemes.

The UKs third political party unveiled its vision of the future of rural Britain by launching a discussion document on Monday (4 Sept).

“Current support mechanisms are focussed on production and not development. This must change,” the Lib Dems claim in the document, called Roots to Recovery.

Government plans mean that next year 2.5% of the 1.6bn in subsidy payments to farmers will be ‘modulated’. That will rise to 4.5% by 2005.

The aim is to cut subsidy payments and redirect the money into schemes which boost the environment and rural development.

But the Lib Dems believe that flat rate modulation should be replaced with a tiered system that does not discriminate against the smaller farmer.

Colin Breed, the Lib Dem agriculture spokesman, said the “flat rate” form of modulation, introduced by government would be “simple but unfair”.

“We believe this does not offer protection for the smaller farmer,” he said.

Tiered modulation would protect the current mix of farms that exist within British agriculture and would also raise more money, added Mr Breed.

The document also calls for the establishment of a panel to examine the possibility of removing all direct subsidies within the next 15 years.

It says that subsidies should be replaced with a “bond paid from within the constraints of the current budget”.

The Lib Dems also want to see the introduction of an early retirement scheme for older farmers linked to a scheme which would attract younger entrants.

The document calls for additional support for organic farm conversions and a five-year moratorium on the commercial growing of GM crops.

Other topics covered include red tape in farming, the roles of supermarkets and farmers markets, rural services and housing in the countryside.

“This is a discussion document that we hope will form the basis of real debate and discussion,” concluded Mr Breed.