DEFRA to pay back lost beef cash – but only a quarter of it

DEFRA HAS promised to pay back some of the beef special premium removed from British livestock producers as a result of this year’s 30% scaleback.

The move follows agreement in Brussels on a compensation package for Irish farmers who were also affected by a significant scaleback. This was due to the bigger-than-normal number of BSP claims submitted last year ahead of the changeover to the single farm payment (News, July 29).

“There is going to be a payment, but we can’t say when because currently Rural Payments Agency staff are prioritising the single farm payment,” said a DEFRA spokesman. “It will happen, but not immediately.”

The spokesman added that the cash would come entirely from Brussels coffers, estimating that the repayment would be worth around £4.5m.

The money will be targeted at those beef producers who made second claims on over-20-month steers. It is estimated that around 9000 farmers should benefit in respect of some 267,000 second claims above the national ceiling.

The NFU has welcomed the announcement that producers will be getting something. “The £4.5m will make up about a quarter of the scaleback on second claims,” said livestock adviser Alastair Johnston.

But it is significantly less than the e17.5m (£12m) due to be handed back to 24,000 Irish farmers in respect of their 23% scaleback. That will effectively halve their penalty.

“The Irish government is footing half the bill,” said Mr Johnston. “That is because they recognise the severity of the problem.

We would like to think DEFRA would take a similar approach, though at this stage it is still unclear whether co-funding will be mandatory or optional.”

Scottish NFU president John Kinnaird has also called for equal treatment with the Irish. “I am pleased the EU Commission has agreed to the principle of support, but we must remain cautious until we see exactly what it means for the thousands of farmers hit by the scaleback.”