19 November 1999

Small farms incomes will suffer from changes

EXTENSIFICATION payment changes and proposed alterations to HCLAs are set to hit small upland farms incomes, according to Chris Blackman.

He fears that MAFF, having decided that HCLA payments will change from a headage to an area base, will pay farms a flat rate area payment.

This will push HCLA payments up the hill to the detriment of small upland farms, he believes. "The perception is that hill subsidies are to compensate for permanent disadvantage. But I believe that because hill producers have to farm large areas to make a living they may not need extra support to maintain the environment and production.

"Most hill farms tend to cover a bigger area than upland units; they have to be to make money. Supporting a 1000 ewes a hill farm may require 2000 acres, while an upland farm may only need 300 acres to support the same flock."

Previously both farms would receive the same HCLA payments, but when the payment changes to an area base there will be a big discrepancy between the two farms, says Mr Blackman.

"If MAFF implements a policy with no historical link to what was paid before there will be a big difference in payments. The NFU wants to see payments linked historically to prevent a big redistribution of money."

Countering the argument that EU policy is seeking to protect the most fragile environment, Mr Blackman says that the new HCLA payments will have no impact on environmental management.

"The main driver for stocking rate on the hill is sheep subsidy and nobody is likely to cut ewe numbers as Sheep Annual Premium remains as before."

But Mr Blackman says his points are not about protecting his own interests. "We would prefer to see area payments linked to what producers received before. It is not about benefiting the hill or the upland producer, but about minimising the redistribution of payments in upland and hill areas." &#42