• THE German EU presidency has cancelled the next meeting of farm ministers, due to take place in Luxembourg on Apr 19-20, because there is little to discuss. First legal texts on the Agenda 2000 package will be reviewed by agriculture specialists in Brussels next Monday. If there are no problems, they can then be passed by any council – not necessarily the agriculture one.
• SWEDISH farmers are in conflict with the EU Commission, following publication of the first legal texts on Agenda 2000. As part of the final package it was agreed to pay growers in Sweden and Finland an extra k19/t (£12.70/t) area aid to compensate for higher drying costs. But the draft regulation limits this to farmers north of the 62nd parallel in Sweden, but offers it to the whole of Finland, which extends as far south as the 60th parallel.
• EUROPEAN pig producers clashed at the annual meeting of French union, FNP, in Paris this week, according to reports from Reuters. French producers have advocated an EU-wide piglet slaughter policy to tighten the market and raise prices. But Dutch, Danish and German representatives said this would be handing markets to the US.
• UP TO 20,000 Irish farming families will be eligible for a new low income support programme. The Farm Assist Scheme overcomes many of the problems of previous social welfare schemes, says the Irish Farmers Association *
Total confusion clouds start of organic scheme
By FW reporters
TOTAL confusion appears to surround the start of the new Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) for England.
While NFU president Ben Gill was writing to farm minister Nick Brown to express concern about various aspects of the "proposed scheme", MAFF, unbeknown to the union, was already sending out details and inviting applications from all farmers who had expressed interest in organic conversion.
Different MAFF regional offices also seemed confused about whether or not the scheme had been launched officially.
But questions over the likely adequacy of funding remain. The information supplied by the ministry states: "The amount of money for the scheme is determined in advance and is expected to be sufficient to meet requirements. However, if demand is significantly higher than expected it may be necessary to defer approval of applications received but not yet approved, or even close the scheme to new applications for an indeterminate period."
MAFF also admits that it could take up to three months to approve an application, during which time conversion rules must be obeyed. Many producers fear that uncertainty about total funding could leave them trapped if the government decides to close the scheme before approving their applications.
Anyone benefiting from other schemes, such as Environmentally Sensitive Area payments, could also find their OFS payments cut if there is deemed to be a case of double funding.
Mr Gill, in his letter to the minister, asked for a meeting to discuss the scheme and pointed out the unions belief that any cases of double-funding should be handled on a case-by-case basis rather than lumping everyone claiming ESA payments together.
"We are very disappointed that MAFF seems to be sending such a negative message to those already in ESAs," a union official said. He also found it odd that the ministry had sent details to farmers before the necessary legislation had been laid before parliament.
A MAFF official, however, insisted that the legislation had been confirmed in parliament earlier this week. He added that Mr Brown would launch the scheme officially on Monday (Apr 12).
Talks on MLCs future if Scots break away
THE future role of the Meat and Livestock Commission in a devolved Scotland has been the main subject of two meetings this week.
On Wednesday, commission chairman Don Curry met Scottish NFU president Jim Walker in Carlisle to discuss the issue. The previous day, MLC commissioner John Ross said, if push came to shove, he would quit that role in favour of his chairmanship of the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association
"There has been no conflict of interests so far but I am well aware of the current debate and the political support for the idea that levies raised in Scotland should be spent here. If I was forced to choose I would want to serve the best interests of the Scottish meat industry," he said during the launch of a five-year SQBLA promotional campaign.
Mr Ross thought Scotland would still need MLC services in the future but insisted that SQBLA would not become involved in the debate. "We have a clear role, to promote Scottish beef and lamb, and that is what we intend to do."
Mr Walker, who was at the launch, agreed. "The union has a role to play in the future of MLC in Scotland but SQBLA should stick to its own specific job. I have mixed views about MLC. Value for money has to be the key and the MLC machine is cumbersome. It can take five different committee meetings before a decision is implemented.
"Scotland could buy into the MLC services it requires and keep more of our £5m in levy money at home for increased promotion. I am more interested in differentiating Scottish beef and lamb than employing home economists" he said.
Mr Walker repeated his view (News, Mar 26) that unless an acceptable compromise could be reached there was every chance that the new Scottish parliament would legislate to retain all Scottish farmer levies in Scotland.
That was the main message he took to the Carlisle meeting with Mr Curry. The meeting lasted more than three hours and was, said Mr Walker, a full and frank exchange of ideas. The union would now discuss the issue with the rest of the meat trade in Scotland before all Scottish interests met, with Mr Curry in the chair, on Apr 19. *