Hopes for increased EU help for sheep farmers

Wednesday 17th October 2001 10:00 pm

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HARD-PRESSED sheep farmers may get a 50 per cent increase in subsidies following recommendations by the European Parliament's agriculture committee, writes Ann Parsons.

At a meeting of the committee earlier this week a proposal to increase the annual ewe premium for EU sheep farmers to £18.90 was approved, although the European Commission had been proposing a lower flat-rate premium of only £13.23 for sheep and even less for goats. The committee said the commission's figures were far too low.

West Country MEP Neil Parish — a member of the agriculture and rural affairs committee — said this could prove to be a lifeline for the hard-pressed farming industry.

'Our farmers need all the help and support they can get in this time of crisis. We also supported a resolution to pay the premium in one lump sum rather than in instalments.

'In addition, we voted through an additional supplementary premium of £5.67 for less-favoured areas where there are practically no alternatives to sheep production. This means that UK hill sheep farmers will receive almost £25 per ewe.'

The ewe and she-goat premium received by farmers is a deficiency payment calculated on the difference between the basic price and the average Community market price. Due to the export ban on British lamb in the wake of foot and mouth there has been a shortage of sheep meat on the continent, causing dramatic price rises. The ewe premium has therefore dropped across the whole EU, although UK sheep producers are suffering from a collapse in prices due to a huge over-supply because of movement and export bans — a devastating double blow.

Mr Parish said they would now fight to see the committee's recommendations approved by the full European Parliament.

Ian Johnson from the NFU in Devon said they had been asking for an exceptional top-up for sheep farmers — some desperately needed short-term support — and recognition of the hard times endured by them in this country.

He said: 'Hopefully, there is some good news. The NFU has been pushing for it and if it has been achieved that will be great.'

But Mr Johnson could not hold out false hopes of new subsidies for sheep farmers in the long-term: 'Most of the indications are that British sheep farmers will be getting less with the reform of the European agricultural policy.

'Margaret Beckett has said we must reform farming and Britain will be taking the lead — with the accent on environmental issues and not subsidising. The era of the reduction subsidy is over.'

Following the events and repercussions of September 11, Mr Johnson considered it possible farming may begin to be valued once more in terms of food production rather than environmental issues.

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