Beef principles welcomed but not nitty-gritty
By Shelley Wright
BEEF industry leaders have welcomed the recent guidelines from government explaining how Agenda 2000 reforms will work. But they are unhappy with many details.
Causing most controversy is the decision to continue the 90-head limit for beef special premium scheme claims.
Jim Walker, Scottish NFU president, says the limit does nothing to encourage farmers to produce what the market wants – beef from young animals. "Instead, it just carries on encouraging people to farm for subsidies."
BSPS payments for next year will be k122 a head for steers (about £77 at current exchange rates), payable from seven months of age, and k160 (£102) a head for young bulls at least 20 months old.
Maintaining the 90-head limit is, according to Robert Forster, NBA chief executive, "one of the most ill-advised decisions ever".
He blames the NFU, which had forecast that up to 500,000 new calves a year would be reared after the demise of the calf processing scheme. Without a limit, it had argued, a scaleback of up to £10 a beast might apply, de-stabilising the beef sector.
But recent MLC forecasts, which suggest negligible BSPS scaleback in 2000, show how misleading the NFUs argument is, Mr Forster adds.
Kevin Pearce, NFU livestock adviser, says the union consulted the membership on three separate occasions over the past 18 months. "Each time, the overwhelming response was to retain the limit under the current climate.
"No one has been able to provide accurate data giving clear guidelines on what might otherwise have happened next year."
Mr Walker welcomes the scrapping of the separate Scottish reference herd for BSPS claims. This is being replaced by a single UK reference herd of 1,519,811 units – an increase of 100,000 units.
The government has also announced that surplus national reserve quota will be withdrawn from suckler cow premium from next year to comply with Agenda 2000 limits. It will also cut all producers quota by about 4% based on the amount held at the end of the 1999 scheme.
The national envelope for beef will be paid exclusively on SCP, with the top-up expected to be worth about £8/cow in 2000, rising to about £24/cow by 2002.
Milk quota ceiling for dairy farmers claiming SCP will increase from 120,000kg to 180,000kg – described as derisory by the Scottish NFU.
Extensification premium will be calculated using a two-tier scheme, with stocking densities determined by the number of livestock units on a farm on six dates during the year.
"This is the real issue," says Mr Pearce. "It fails to take account of the true stocking density of a farm, which, due to changes in calving pattern, may qualifying one year, and not the next.
Government has let the industry down very badly."
From next year, extensification premium on stocking densities of 1.6-2.0 livestock units/ha will be worth k33 (£21) a head, twice that where stocking densities fall below 1.6LU/ha.