Farmers in the dark over Agenda 2000 beef reforms

By Philip Clarke

WITH less than a month to go before the new Agenda 2000 beef regime kicks in, farmers are still being starved of information on how the scheme will apply.

“It is unacceptable that producers should be expected to adapt to some very significant changes without adequate time for them to plan,” says NFU president, Ben Gill.

“They have been left in the dark, with no formal guidance from MAFF… and I fear that the very complexity of this regime will inhibit legitimate claims.”

One of the first things to hit them from 1 January will be the change in the age at which animals qualify for beef special premium.

“It is fairly well understood that the minimum claim age comes forward a month, (to seven and 20 months),” says NFU livestock advisor, Kevin Pearce.

“But what is not understood is that the maximum age for the first claim also comes forward, to animals under 20 months.”

Some producers, who have already filled their 90-head limit for this year, may find that the next batch of animals on which they plan to claim BSP in January is ineligible.

This will affect steers born in April 1998, which reach 20 months of age in December 1999.

There are many other areas of uncertainty, says Mr Pearce.

As yet there is no information on how suckler cow quotas will be cut, nothing on whether the 90-head limit will stay or go, no guidance on whether heifers will count as one livestock unit or 0.6 units and no confirmation how the national envelope will be distributed, though it is expected to be added to suckler cow premium.

The NFU is particularly concerned at the way stocking density for extensification premium will be calculated.

There are two options, says Mr Pearce – a 365-day average or a calculation based on six random census dates during the year.

“MAFF favours the six census dates, but this amounts to an annual lottery for farmers. You only need one or two freak days, when stocking is unusually high, for it to result in a lot of lost subsidy.”

The NFU views the 365-day average as the “lesser of two evils”.

“Either way, producers need some time to get a handle on how it will apply, so they can get their record-keeping in a format that satisfies the schemes requirements.”

But the NFUs severest criticism is for the new slaughter premium. “The level of bureaucracy is well over-the-top and goes way beyond what the regulations require,” says Mr Pearce.

Implementation proposals have included a requirement for farmers to supply a receipt for the sale of their animals, plus photocopies of cattle passports with their application forms.

“This is a step too far. Farmers need those receipts for tax assessments and dont want to have to start chasing MAFF to get them back again. The administration of the scheme is an absolute nightmare.”

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