23 April 1999
Farm unions cautious over hill reform
By Ginnie Bealby
FARMERS leaders have reacted cautiously to the launch of a government consultation likely to result in a massive overhaul of the hill-farming sector.
Two consultation papers released yesterday pave the way for the implementation of major reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The first document, called Supporting the Hill Farmer, includes plans to scrap the system of paying farmers for each animal they keep for breeding.
The headage payment system would be replaced by acreage payments based on the amount of land producers farm in designated “less favoured areas”.
A second document asks for views on implementation of the Rural Development Regulation (RDR) section of the Agenda 2000 farm reforms.
It proposes to enhance the countryside largely by switching production-based subsidies to payments linked to environmental measures.
Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, expressed concern over both documents, saying that the proposals were of crucial importance to producers.
“They deal with elements of the CAP package where Government can make decisions which will have a massive impact on the UK agriculture industry,” he said.
“The NFU is very uncertain about the need for change, and will stress that any changes must not disadvantage hard-pressed hill farmers.”
Mr Gill continued: “The Government must ensure that there is a phased transition to any new scheme, particularly if it involves a significant redistribution of money.”
The RDR consultation paper re-floats proposals for an early retirement scheme designed to encourage farmers to quit the industry.
The idea was first proposed by former agriculture minister Jack Cunningham, but postponed last year after the government decided it would have a limited appeal.
The Farmers Union of Wales said it would back an early retirement scheme if it allowed older farmers to leave the industry with dignity.
The union had criticised last years proposal because it would have required any holding from a retired farmer to be amalgamated with a larger unit.
“Farm size should be maintained to prevent damage to the rural landscape, rural economy and the general rural structure,” said Alan Morris, FUW spokesman.
The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) said a scheme with significantly higher payments was needed for tenant farmers who lacked the assets of owner-occupiers.
“The last proposal did not provide enough money for our members giving up their house and land with no sufficient assets to sell,” said George Dunn, TFA chief executive.
“The scheme should not include restrictions for the land to be amalgamated or taken out of production.”