18 August 1995

UK hill farms man defences against further HLCA cuts

By Peter Bullen

Political correspondent

FEARS of another cut in hill livestock payments have put Britains hill farmers on red alert.

With upland producers facing a desperate feed shortage the industry is planning to raise its strongest defence yet against further hill livestock compensatory allowances cuts. NFUs in England, Wales and Scotland and the Farmers Union of Wales are all preparing detailed dossiers for the governments hill and uplands review talks in October.

The NFU has already started collecting evidence through a specially enlarged survey of incomes in less favoured areas.

Englands specialist Hill Farm-ing Initiative pressure group is meeting MAFF next month to voice concern. Spokesman Alistair Davey said hill farmers were in crisis. They needed a rise in HLCAs.

There had been no carry-over of feed from last year and most producers were already on to next winters feed because of the drought-hit grazing. Feed and other costs were escalating. All this was after last years 20% fall in hill incomes, he said.

The industry is determined to pre-empt further HLCA cuts in budget announcements on Nov 28. The government slashed HLCAs by more than £45m in two successive years until last November when new farm minister, William Waldegrave, managed to resist Treasury pressure. But his "poacher turned gamekeeper" promotion to Treasury chief secretary means Mr Waldegrave is now the man wielding the Treasury axe, and government policy dictates even harsher cuts this year.

With inside knowledge of MAFFs defence against HLCA cuts, Mr Waldegrave appears well placed to slash the £105m a year HLCA bill. But he could be forestalled by the strength of the industrys evidence.

The most telling argument is the present critical feed position. An FUW spokesman said it was receiving daily evidence of the desperate feed position. Weeks of drought and fierce sunshine had burnt off most of the keep.

Hay and straw prices were rocketing and cereal prices were not easing despite the easy harvest. No rain was in sight and the shortage of keep was threatening ewe condition at tupping and through the winter. "The situation is extremely serious," he said.

This was on top of last years "catastrophic" drop in hill farmers incomes due to high feed prices and low market returns. &#42