15 April 1999
Hill reforms ‘could spell disaster’
By Jonathan Riley
THE Welsh and Scottish Offices proposals for the reform of Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances could spell disaster for hill and tenant farmers, say industry leaders.
MAFF is not expected to release its plans to switch from headage to area payments until the end of next week. But last weeks Scottish and Welsh proposals have already created a storm.
Tenant Farmers Association chief executive George Dunn said: “We are totally opposed to a switch in payments. In many cases the only assets that a tenant farmer holds are the livestock and the subsidy payment.
“A switch to area payments would pass a valuable asset to the landlords who are already paid for the value of the land through the rent they receive.
“Area payments would also increase land values and cut stock values reducing the tenants assets still further.”
But he recognised some change was needed as a result of the Agenda 2000 CAP reforms and because of concerns about overgrazing.
The TFA has offered an alternative to area payments. “We are suggesting that the producer receives a direct bond payment that is linked to historical stocking levels and subject to environmental requirements.
“The payment could be reviewed regularly and only continued if environmental requirements have been adhered to,” explained Mr Dunn.
“The producer then receives payment and has to be responsible for the environment while neither the value of the sheep nor the land is distorted. It also means that the person farming retains some asset,” he said.
National Sheep Association chief executive John Thorley said changing to area-based payments would mean a redistribution of payments from smaller hill farms to larger ones and that could spell the end for some farmers.
“Its against natural justice and the only way forward is to relate any future form of payment to a previous stocking history, which the Welsh office wants to avoid. But it is the only fair way,” Mr Thorley insisted.
He also condemned the Welsh Office proposal to cap payments made to larger farms.
“This poses further dangers and could alter the delicately balanced labour structure. Larger farms often support part-time workers who in turn may be farming smaller units on a part-time basis.
“Modulation could rule out their employment on the larger unit and their own small units would then not survive. It will be the smaller farmers that suffer if these proposals are not rejected,” he warned.
NFU Less Favoured Area committee chairman Peter Allen said that the proposals were a blunt instrument that could hit genuine farmers hardest.
He said a switch to area aid could result in some of the vast estates simply farming the subsidy system. Job losses would result.
“One man could administer an estate of 27,000 acres and investment firms could move in and oust the genuine worker,” he added.