Maps leave hill farmers facing cuts

25 August 2000

Maps leave hill farmers facing cuts

By Isabel Davies

HILL farmers face a big cut in incomes because government plans mean huge swathes of upland England could be reclassified to attract the lowest subsidy rate.

Ministry of Agriculture officials insist they use eight-year-old maps as the basis for payments under the governments new Hill Farm Allowance (HFA) scheme.

The maps redesignate some severely disadvantaged upland areas — which attract the highest subsidy rate — as moorland, which attracts the lowest subsidy rate.

The proposals would make a dramatic difference to producers subsidies.

Payments for Severely Disadvantaged Areas will be set at 34/ha (13.92/acre) but for moorland they drop to only 13/ha (5.27/acre).

It means that a farmer with a 300-hectare holding who expected to receive more than 10,000 could now receive less than 4000.

Alastair Davy, spokesman for the Hill Farming Initiative, said huge amounts land could be reclassified as moorland, spelling disaster for hill farmers.

The plan should be withdrawn immediately and a full inquiry launched, he told said.

“This is death by the back door. It is very wrong that farmers havent been told.”

The maps MAFF plans to use were drawn up for the now-defunct moorland scheme which paid farmers to graze fewer sheep and improve conservation.

It was abolished last November.

The new HFA scheme has similar aims, paying farmers for the amount of land they farm rather than the number of animals they rear.

But the moorland designation issue is not the only problem the industry has found as more details of the scheme have crept out.

Farmers representatives in England are warning the changes could leave producers even worse off than first feared when the new scheme starts in February.

The NFU said this week it was shocked to learn that the calculation of safety net payments for farmers who lose out under the new proposals will be done in such a way to make losses appear smaller than they actually are.

NFU president Ben Gill said: “This new development makes what was already an extremely grave situation even worse.

The NFU finds it totally unacceptable that the safety net for those producers who would have been hit hardest has been cut.”

Scottish farmers believe they will be unaffected by the latest revelations. They have been promised an independent right of appeal if they lose out under the new scheme.

But farmers in England will have to accept any change in land category which results in a lower subsidy payment, said a MAFF spokeswoman.

Hill farmers in Wales are still seeking clarification from Welsh agriculture secretary Carwyn Jones on the new scheme.

In Northern Ireland, Wesley Aston, commodities director of the Ulster Farmers Union, said he was very concerned, pointing out that the Republic of Ireland has avoided such “manipulation.”

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