FARM minister Nick Brown yesterday (Thur) launched a wide-ranging consultation document on the future of farming and priorities for agricultural support.
The 26-page document calls for industry views on a range of issues covered by Agenda 2000, including the possibility of introducing modulation and an early-retirement scheme targeted at beef and sheep farmers. But it gives little ministerial guidance and offers no indication of how much money might be directed at each of the options.
"Decisions about how best to set priorities will be taken at a later date when the government has decided which of the discretionary measures it wishes to implement," said Mr Brown.
The document highlights the need to improve farmers marketing skills and promises that, wherever possible, any changes to animal welfare laws will be on an EU-wide basis.
By contrast, and a day earlier, Scottish farm minister Ross Finnie was being very definite about what the Scottish Executive proposes on future support arrangements for beef farmers and the less favoured areas, the latter involving sweeping changes from the old HLCA system.
There will, however, be no change for the current year, with Mr Finnie confident that Brussels will accept an interim scheme.
That will allow a breathing space for final consultation and implementation of a new, area-based scheme. Every farm will have a different rate of payment based on a three-tier qualification system. The tiers are:
(1) The severity of permanent, natural handicap. That suggests a shift of resources further up the hills, and the minister did admit there would be some redistribution of resources. "If it means more going to the most fragile then I am relaxed about that," he said.
(2) Type of production and differing economic, social, and other circumstances. Extensive livestock production is seen as the key, and fibre goats and deer are to be included.
(3) Environmental considerations. Stocking density will be a paramount consideration.
Points will be awarded for each of the criteria. Once they have been calculated, the total declared forage area (as in IACS) for each farm will be used to calculate the area payment for that unit.
The beef proposals, in summary include:
• All national envelope money to be used as a supplement to suckler cow premium. (MAFF is seeking views on whether it should choose that route or make area payments on permanent pasture used for rearing cattle.)
• Abolition of the 90-head limit on beef special premium payments. Payments for steers at 9 and 22 months. It is also expected that there will be a single UK reference herd for BSPS.
• The limit on milk production to qualify for suckler cow premium to rise from 120,000 to 180,000kg.