8 December 1999
Subsidy reform is ‘tax on farmers’
By Johann Tasker
FARMERS and environmental groups have clashed over the governments decision to divert farm subsidies from food production towards conservation.
The National Farmers Union said thousands of farmers faced lower incomes after agriculture minister Nick Brown announced a cut in production subsidies.
Mr Brown hopeS to raise £1.6 billionn for rural development schemes by a cut in subsidies. starting at 2.5% in 2001 and rising towards a 4.5% reduction by 2006/7.
His decision is likely to be welcomed by the general public, which largely funds the £3.5bn spent each year to subsidise UK farmers and food production.
Mr Brown has often spoken of his belief that farmers should deliver more public benefits if taxpayers are to continue supporting agriculture.
But the National Farmers Union, which is opposed to diverting support from food production, described the redirection of subsidies as a tax on farmers.
“We are extremely concerned at these plans to take money out of farmers pockets,” said Ben Gill, NFU president.
Mr Gill conceded that he was pleased that the money raised for environmental schemes by reducing production subsidies would be matched by the Treasury.
But the proper way to have funded agri-environment schemes would have been through an adequate allocation from the European Union budget, he added.
And he warned that farmers would be penalised because the EU funding they receive would be based on low government spending levels in previous years.
Environmental groups and campaigners for sustainable farming methods gave a more mixed reaction to the switch in farm subsidies, however
The conservationist Council for the Protection of Rural England described the redirection of money as a boost for a greener and prosperous future for farming.
Alastair Rutherford, CPRE head of rural policy, said it signalled a new direction for farm support, fewer damaging subsidies and better-quality food.
“This announcement is terrific news for both the countryside and the farmers who have been turned away from green farming schemes,” he said.
But Friends of the Earth, which campaigns against genetically modified crops, said a reduction in farm subsidies would not help crisis-hit smaller producers.
The Soil Association, which campaigns for organic farmers, welcomed the governments decision to divert more money towards organic production.
“This is a major step in the right direction, said director Patrick Holden.
“Its a welcome indication of the growing importance that organic food and farming occupies on the political agenda.”
The government should now set targets for the expansion of organic farming in the UK, which have proved successful in other European countries, he added.