Subsidy cuts to boost conservation

7 December 1999

Subsidy cuts to boost conservation

By Johann Tasker

FARM subsidies will be cut by up to 4.5% under a government initiative to raise money for rural development and environmental schemes for the countryside.

The cut in subsidies will start at 2.5% in 2001, and rise annually to a 4.5% reduction by 2006/7, by which time it is expected to raise £1.6 billion.

Agriculture minister Nick Brown is expected to confirm the reduction in subsidies in a statement to the House of Commons at 3.30pm on Tuesday (7 December).

The switch in support will enable the government to divert subsidies away from food production and towards environmental schemes run by farmers.

It will also boost funding to £23 million per year for organic farmers in England by the year 2003 – a move which will please organic campaigners and consumer groups.

The Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England will also receive a big cash injection although the effect on similar schemes in Scotland and Wales is unclear.

But there will be no early retirement to enable older farmers to leave the industry, and no scheme to encourage younger producers to start farming.

Colin Breed, the Liberal Democrats agricultural spokesman, said the move was a welcome shift of emphasis towards promoting agri-environment measures.

Although there was no easy way to make changes to farming support, the switch in farm aid would help boost the rural economy, he said.

“Our main concern is that the government is flexible and provides farmers with an adequate safety net during the transitional phase.”

Conservation groups, which claim that the governments environmental initiatives are grossly underfunded, will welcome the extra money.

The RSPB said it wanted a doubling of the UKs £200m annual budget for rural development, which compares to approximately £3.5bn spent on farming.

The government could shift money away from environmentally damaging production methods into schemes which will produce a range of benefits, it said.

Agri-environment initiatives have been proven to boost farm incomes and create rural jobs while enhancing wildlife and the countryside.

For very many farmers, modulation would begin to offer a way out of the current farming crisis, said the RSPB.

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