Beef producers blast government support proposals

Related tags Defra Environment European commission

Although beef farmers in England are keen to bring their farms into
line with new environmental regulations, some are fearful that this
requirement could jeopardise their economic future, according to
the National Beef Association (NBA). The industry body claims that
these fears have been raised because government support is not
being targeted properly.

This, says the association, could cause a farming crisis. Some farmers face falls in support income in the region of 40 to 50 per cent by 2013, because the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has decided to introduce area-based payments.

The NBA says that suckled calf breeders on farms on the fringes of the SDA (Severely Disadvantaged Area) are now in a difficult situation. The body argues that Defra's introduction of a special SDA-based payment zone, with flat rate support levels around 60 per cent lower than the non-SDA zone, will force support reductions of 55 to 75 per cent on all of these farms.

"This is why we have asked the European Commission if it can put pressure on Defra to modify its decision,"​ said NBA chief executive, Robert Forster. "We want to know if anything can be done to relieve the excessive burden on the beef sector by pushing through better targeted support re-allocations elsewhere."

The NBA believes that if the situation currently facing beef farmers is not reviewed and if reductions in the level of support continue to spiral downwards, then farmers will simply not have the operating capital necessary to fund business changes based on new market signals and increased environmental care.

"Efficient and sustainable business development has been identified by Defra as a requirement for all decoupled farms but far too many farms in the beef sector will find it impossible to meet these targets,"​ said Forster.

The NBA has now asked Defra if it can review the analysis used to support the creation of the lower paid SDA region. It argues that the survival of some environmentally important farms is at stake, with the overwhelming majority of these farms managed by families.

"All of them have contributed to the widely appreciated increase in the habitat range of plants, insects, birds and mammals, and they continue to play an important part in their local economies and social structures too."

Forster says that Defra​ has suggested farms can adapt to decoupling by raising the quality of their production and reducing the quantity. "However as far as we can see the great majority qualify for maximum extensification payment rates because they carry less than 1.4 livestock units per hectare."

The NBA​ argues that reducing support to farmers on the fringes of the SDA will result in the almost total removal of the 185,000-strong suckler cows and their replacement with one-man flocks of sheep - something that neither the sheep sector or environmentalists would welcome.

"It may be that Defra has not properly appreciated this and if we can see the analysis it used before it made its decision we will be better able to understand the reason for it,"​said Forster.

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