19 June 1998

Protest forms pour in to counter plan for input tax

JUST-SAY-NO forms were flying into the FW stand at Cereals 98 as farmers, distributors and advisers all registered their rejection of government input tax proposals.

"It would be another knife-in-the-back, knee-in-the-groin, for the farming industry," says Aubrey Andrews. He doubts whether an input tax would reduce fertiliser or pesticide use on his 610ha (1500 acres) of combinable crops in Glos, a view echoed by many.

"Nitrogen would need to go up dramatically before we cut use," says John Miller, who farms 530ha (1300 acres) at Kelham, Notts. "It is a crude system which the industry would work round by importing or other means. The danger is that it would make us uncompetitive with the rest of Europe."

East Yorkshire seed grower David Hinchcliffe agrees. "It will put us at a tremendous disadvantage to the rest of Europe – and achieve nothing on environmental grounds. The £200m forecast to be raised is far less than the losses that would be incurred across the agricultural industry."

Anthony Lundy, who grows 400ha (1000 acres) of combinable crops and beet in Notts, is scathing of the proposed tax. "At £70/t for cereals profits are struggling anyway. Any input tax would bankrupt farming at present prices."

Jim Lang, of West Ord, Berwick upon Tweed reckons he pays enough for inputs already. "It is the last thing we need. Our incomes were halved last year anyway. But it would need to be a big tax to reduce input use – we do not use them just for the hell of it."

At the other end of the country, George Hayward, Border Farm, Bideford, Devon calls the tax a complete con. "The government is just after our money and trying to win votes on environmental issues."

Thomas Smythe says protecting the countryside is of paramount importance. But the proposals will not achieve their claimed green aims. He farms 610ha (1500 acres) in Yorkshire, including a stretch of the renowned Driffield Beck trout stream.

"An input tax would be totally misguided. Everybody locally makes a huge effort. I believe most farmers have the environment at heart anyway. Taxing nitrogen fertiliser would increase FYM and slurry use from the pig and poultry industry in our area, which would increase the pollution risks," he warns.

Lincs farmer Phillip Bates echoes a common theme. "The government is trying to make farmers extinct. We are watching our inputs very hard anyway."

Richard Williamson of Glapthorne, near Peterborough says an input tax would be the only way government gets any tax out of farmers. "They are not getting any income tax now."

Despite signing up for the campaign, Writtle College lecturer John Vipond was alone in suggesting there could be a benefit from an input tax. "It may make farmers pay more attention to what they are putting on, particularly nitrogen. Reduced fungicide and pgr use would follow as over-thick crop canopies are avoided. But I fear the government will get it all wrong, so Ill sign anyway." &#42

Input tax proposals were a talking point attracting some strong views at Cereals 98, most vehemently opposing the motion. Many growers at the event called in at the FW stand to voice their growing concerns.