19 May 1995

UKs older farmers face troubled times

BRITAINS ageing farm community is heading for trouble, warns an NFU discussion document.

The paper, which identifies policy options to help new entrants and young farmers, says the UK has older farmers who cant afford to retire and young farmers who cannot gain access to the industry.

"This is surely unacceptable in a European Union which professes to care about young farmers and claims to be helping them, and in the UK where the government seizes every opportunity to express that it, too, cares," it adds.

MAFF has not shown any commitment towards special treatment for young farmers, it says. "MAFF will undoubtedly point to tenancy reform as its contribution, but while tenancy reform will certainly help, it alone is not a panacea."

Acquiring the "right to produce" in the milk, sheep and suckler cow sectors is identified as the single, biggest hurdle facing young farmers. Possible schemes, which would comply with EC rules, to help acquire milk quota include:

lIntervention in the market price of quota by the Community or the UK government – essentially price fixing at affordable levels.

&#8226 An across-the-board 1-2% quota cut to boost the national reserve, together with a siphon of 2%-5% on all permanent transfers.

In the case of sheep and suckler cow quota, where there is a national reserve, the document recognises that there is simply not enough quota to meet demand. MAFF has not agreed to NFU requests to introduce a buy-up scheme. The only other options are a quota cut across the board or the provision of extra quota for new entrants from the Commission.

The document also explores other structural and financial measures including the early retirement scheme. Britain, unlike Eire, has not introduced this scheme partly because participating farms have to be enlarged and partly because MAFF has to provide 50% of the finance – the rest is funded from Europe. "It would obviously be a move in the right direction if we could achieve a derogation and a commitment to funding from the government," the document says.

Asking banks to consider special loan schemes and favourable interest rates for young farmers is also suggested. Funding from the privatised utilities and sponsorship from other companies are also raised as other sources of money.

"The privatised water companies are making huge profits and have a responsibility to the environment. Could some of those profits be utilised to help new entrants/young farmers?" the document asks. &#42

Liz Mason