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Cheer at Beckett rethink

Apr 24 2004

By Jennifer Mackenzie, The Journal

 

Farmers have expressed relief at changes to the way the Single Payment will be calculated. The payments will be introduced in England next year under Common Agricultural Policy reforms.

Secretary of State Margaret Beckett's original decision saw England split into two - land in the Severely Disadvantaged Area and all other land.

After talks with farmers and landowners, Mrs Beckett has agreed to refine the split.

There are to be three regions - moorland in upland Severely Disadvantaged Areas, the rest of the upland SDA and all land outside upland SDA.

The Tenant Farmers' Association, a critic of the original plan, said the change of heart would be an improvement for most hill producers.

TFA national chairman Reg Haydon said: "The concern was that there are beef, arable and dairy farms inside the SDA boundary which, due to their production patterns and land quality, should have been natural inhabitants of the higher-payment zone.

"We initially proposed that rather than using the SDA line, the Government might choose to use the Moorland line as the demarcation between the two regions in England."

Mrs Beckett said she was not minded to change her decision, but would consider it if there was a consensus.

Some industry bodies disliked the two-region model and would not shift.

Mr Haydon said: "Given this split view and the need for consensus, the TFA felt that three regions was at least better than the status quo and so gave it our support. The TFA never wanted a system of regional payments. In our response to the February 12 announcement, we said that the system would set farmer against farmer and how right those words are now.

"Having been left with a system we did not want, we were forced to try to make it work as well as possible for the majority of members."

While they would have preferred two regions - moorland and everything else - they decided to lobby for change that would benefit most members, he said.

NFU Cumbria chairman Alistair Mackintosh said: "Although this is the decision the NFU lobbied the Secretary of State for, we continue to be concerned for beef and dairy producers.

"We are particularly thinking of a redirection of the Hill Farming Allowance, agri-environmental schemes and other rural development measures. I am pleased that Margaret Beckett recognises this in her announcement.

"Fortunately, the long and gradual transition from a largely historic to a flat-rate system means that we have a breathing space during which we can devise these schemes."

The National Beef Association is pleased Mrs Beckett has agreed to revise the boundary divisions.

But it regretted other industry organisations did not agree the development of English agriculture would be better served if just two regions had been divided by the Moorland line.

NBA chairman Robert Robinson said: "The original decision to have two regions split by the SDA line was the worst possible alternative and we are glad that Mrs Beckett has listened to the industry and approved a modification. The three-region compromise, which the NBA has signed up to, is an improvement because it means that instead of being faced with an ultimate flat rate payment of 75 a hectare in 2012, farmers in the non-moorland section of the SDA will receive around 120 per hectare.

"However, if other industry organisations had been able to persuade their lowland members to accept a Moorland line boundary for just two regions, the industry would have ended up with a much more equitable situation."

He added: "We settled for three regions because Mrs Beckett had insisted on unanimous agreement, the biggest organisations would not come over to our point of view, and we know that half a loaf is better than none at all."


WELCOME FOR U-TURN ON FARM SUBSIDY

 

The farming community has breathed a sigh of relief following an about-turn by Agriculture Secretary Margaret Beckett on how subsidies will be paid in future.

Mrs Beckett has created a new payment category following pressure from agricultural organisations, lobbying over support for farmers in hill and upland areas. Figures have not yet been worked out, but most farmers in these areas should now receive considerably more per hectare than under the previous proposals. The new Single Farm Payment (SFP) starts in January and replaces all previous subsidy schemes.

The original detail, announced in February, caused a furore by creating just two zones for SFPs in England. Farmers with land that had Severely Disadvantaged Area (SDA) status - mostly grazing pasture for sheep and beef cattle - were put in the same category as completely non-productive moorland, which meant they would receive about 75 a hectare in subsidy per year, a considerable reduction on their existing payments.

Faced with an outcry, Mrs Beckett agreed to think again provided all the farming organisations put forward a unanimously-agreed and workable alternative. Despite initial setbacks, the organisations achieved the objective last month.

Mrs Beckett has agreed to their plan and announced that there will be three zones, with the SDA hill farmers in their own category. The other two categories are moorland and "the rest".

"It's much better than the original scheme, but so long as SFP is calculated on a regional basis rather than the basis of historic payments there are bound to be some losers," said Anthony Gibson, National Farmers' Union regional director .

He said that under the new scheme he was concerned about hill farmers whose holdings included a large proportion of moorland - though he was pleased that Mrs Beckett had acknowledged their position and would ensure they had other subsidies.

Mr Gibson hoped payments would eventually be well above the NFU's estimates, which were 35 per hectare for moorland, 150 for SDAs and 230 for the rest of farmland. The final payments would be the average of the amounts historically claimed in each of them, but accurate forecasting was still difficult.

The NFU has also welcomed the fact that the Isles of Scilly will not be treated as an SDA, and will get the full payment for ordinary farmland.

Bill Harper, South West chairman of the National Beef Association, is worried about farms where the land is split between the moorland and SDA zones. "Sorting out the detail of exactly where the dividing line goes is going to be a very interesting operation," he said. "There is obviously a lot still to be negotiated."

In her statement Mrs Beckett said: "We shall need to see that hill farming communities receive appropriate support from other sources, including the England Rural Development Programme."

The Hill Farm Allowance (which is part of the programme) would continue to operate, she said, and there would be various agri-environmental incentives rewarding farmers for improved land management.

phall@westernmorningnews.co.uk