Cash for trees but not spuds

DEFRA HAS indicated that compensation for growers hit by diseases such as ring rot is unlikely, despite government offering cash to businesses affected by Sudden Oak Death.

The government has offered to make available £200,000 to kick-start an industry-run fund for compensation payments to businesses affected by SOD.

The disease hits a variety of trees and has caused problems for the nursery sector.

Junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw announced the money – conditional on industry match-funding – in a letter which reached industry organisations on Wed (Oct 27).

Graham Ward, chairman of the NFU‘s board of horticulture, said it was a breakthrough as it was the first time ever that government had recognised the need to compensate businesses affected by a plant disease.

Mr Ward also welcomed an invitation to the industry to work with DEFRA to develop risk-sharing schemes to protect individual businesses affected by plant disease.

“Individual businesses should not suffer for the benefit of others or the wider environment,” he said.

But in his letter, Mr Bradshaw indicated that financial assistance in respect of other plant pests and diseases was unlikely to be forthcoming.

“Any action on quarantine plant diseases in general is something for the industry to address in the longer term,” he said.

“The role of the government should be confined to … reducing the risk of outbreaks.”

Mr Bradshaw‘s stance is despite a committee of MPs calling on DEFRA to consider compensating arable farmers for losses incurred because of plant diseases imported from overseas.

The Committee of Public Accounts argued in a report published on Tues (Oct 26) that DEFRA‘s compensation arrangements for arable and livestock farmers were inconsistent.

It said livestock farmers were being compensated for some losses caused by animal disease, while there was no compensation for farmers and growers who lost agricultural or horticultural crops through pest or disease.

When he gave evidence to the committee in Jan 2004, Brian Bender, DEFRA‘s permanent secretary, said that compensation arrangements were also inconsistent within the livestock sector.

He added that the government would attempt to correct “the anomaly within the animal disease sector rather than see if the taxpayer should bail out both sectors”.

But the committee concluded DEFRA should “review the circumstances in which compensation schemes might be appropriate”.

It said the review should take into account the benefits and disadvantages of such schemes, the cost to the taxpayer, and the feasibility of alternatives such as insurance or levy schemes.

The MPs also criticised DEFRA‘s inspection performance, referring to a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General which showed the department had not managed to meet its own two-week deadline for inspection of non-EU plant imports.

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