26 June 1998
You’re better off than in ’92 — Sewel

By Johann Tasker at the Royal Highland Show

MANY farmers are better off now than they were six years ago, despite the current crisis in agriculture, Scottish farm minister Lord Sewel said today (Friday).

Speaking at the Royal Highland Show, Lord Sewel claimed dairy and arable farmers are now earning much more than they were in 1992. And he again rejected calls for the Government to compensate farmers for the strength of Sterling.

Although beef and sheep incomes have plummetted due to BSE and the strong Pound, dairy and arable farmers are still benefiting from the MacSharry Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in 1992.

Arable farmers have received £200 million, even though grain prices have not fallen as much as predicted, Lord Sewel said. And dairy farmers have benefited to the tune of £120m.

“No Government can somehow cushion or absolve agriculture from the inevitable fluctuation – the ups and downs – of the economic cycle,” he said. “I recognise the pain that the high Pound is causing, but I do think we ought to remember that agriculture is not alone.”

Lord Sewel said the high Pound is necessary to squeeze inflation down to the Governments targets. Agriculture already gets finincial help that is not available to other industries, he added.

Scottish taxpayers will this year pay £500m in direct payments to farmers, Lord Sewel said.

Scottish NFU leader George Lyon said farmers were entitled to further financial aid: “This is about fair and equal trade,” he said. “Were competing against the Irish farmers, who have received compensation for their monetary problems. And seven of the EU countries have also received the compensation they are entitled to.

“If the minister disagrees with that, he should re-negotiate the EU policy. It would be different if we farmed in a free market such as New Zealand – but we dont.”