22 April 1999
Government consults on future of farming
By Jonathan Riley
THE government has announced one of the most far-ranging consultations ever on the future of agriculture and the rural economy.
Two consultation papers launched today (Thursday) include detailed arrangements for measures to support hill farmers and re-float plans for an early retirement scheme.
The plans for an early retirement scheme are contained in a document seeking views on procedures for implementing European Rural Development Regulations in England.
A separate consultation paper issued at the same time details new support arrangements for hill farmers, including a move towards environmental payments.
The two documents pave the way for major reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy agreed in principle by the European Council last month.
The aim is to bring agricultural and rural policy closer together and will encourage farmers to extend their role as environmental managers as well as food producers.
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said the exercise covered both rural development and hill farming payment reforms.
“I am very keen on seeing an early retirement scheme introduced,” he told Farmers Weekly.
“And, although there is no money earmarked for such a scheme, I want to consult on the idea before advancing it within government.”
But the government consultation documents warn that there may not be enough time to implement any major changes to existing policies.
“The timescale for drawing up the plans is extremely tight – they must be submitted to the EU Commission by November, says one of the documents.
“This will limit severely the extent to which existing arrangements could be modified or new ones put in place.
The rural development package leaves considerable discretion to member states, which would have to split the funding with the European Union.
The government believes that national discretion will enable it to reflect the diversity of rural conditions in the range of things that are funded.