By Shelley Wright
FARM minister Nick Browns £120m aid package for the livestock sector will, the farming unions believe, provide a lifeline for many struggling producers.
But they also agree with the minister on the need for urgent industry consultation to develop a blueprint to secure the long-term viability of the countrys agricultural sector.
Announcing the aid package on Monday, Mr Brown said the government had concentrated on those areas to which farmers and their leaders attached the greatest priority.
There would be a 55% increase in Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances, worth £60m, he said. Subject to EU approval, the money would be paid in February or March.
The government had also applied to the EU Commission for the remaining £48.3m of agrimonetary compensation for the beef sector. This would be paid through the Suckler Cow Premium scheme, based on 1996 claims, by the end of January and would be worth about £29.50/cow.
Mr Brown also announced that he had reversed the governments earlier decision to axe the calf processing scheme from Nov 30. Instead, the scheme will continue for the rest of this financial year, but with payments cut to 80ecu/calf – about 70% of the current rate. That rate, he believed, would attract the poorer quality calves from the dairy herd while leaving better quality animals from the beef herd to find their own price level on the market.
"This announcement helps honour the promise I made to farmers at their Blackpool rally. I promised to listen, to learn and – above all – to help," Mr Brown said.
Turning to the future, the minister said the government and all those associated with food production needed to work together to develop a blueprint for a successful, viable agricultural sector.
As well as securing reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, Mr Brown said he intended to undertake a thorough review of the governments long-term strategy for the rural economy, developing policies that offered a secure future for rural areas.
"Trading conditions will remain tough in the months ahead but I hope that this package and the commitment to generating a vision for agriculture will give the sector the boost it needs to face the future with confidence."
Farm minister Nick Brown:Keeping the promises he made at Blackpool.
What the package means
HLCA rates 1997 1998 (est)
Beef Cows £47.50 £73.63
Ewes (std) £3 £4.65
Ewes (higher) £5.75 £8.91
Beef cows £23.75 £36.81
Ewes £2.65 £4.11
SUCKLER COW PREMIUM*
*Before extensification premium, but including agrimonetary aid based on 1996 claims.