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Greening the Cap Thursday, 11 March, 1999, 20:18 GMT
Muted cheers for farm reform
straw
More help for arable farmers, but doubts remain
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Limited reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy have drawn only lukewarm praise from farmers.

Greening the Cap
The reforms are designed to curb the CAP's spiralling costs and enable the EU to accommodate thousands of east European farmers when enlargement takes place.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said the reforms, when fully implemented, would save a family of four 70 a year.

They involve cutting subsidies to beef farmers and cereal growers by 25%, with 15% cuts for some dairy farmers.

But the National Farmers' Union describes the package as "a mixed bag". President Ben Gill said: "It is not going to solve the financial problems of Britain's farmers. The next few years will still be very difficult."

Gain and pain

Acknowledging that the were "positive and negative elements" to the reforms, Mr Gill said the decision to phase in subsidy cuts gradually would be particularly helpful.

calf
Dairy farmers face renewed problems
And he welcomed the fact that subsidies would not be limited to smaller farmers - the size of British farms is well above the EU average.

But despite the changes made to the reforms originally planned, Mr Gill expressed worries about dairy farmers.

Four member states and Northern Ireland have each been given an extra milk quota allowance, meaning their farmers can produce more milk.

"We are desperately worried about the impact of the extra milk quota in Ireland on the English and Welsh market," said Mr Gill.

He also thought specialist beef farmers could suffer.

"A great deal of flesh needs to be put on the package. Our work is far from finished."

And he was doubtful that food prices would fall as much as Nick Brown predicted.

"I would like to think they would be passed through to the consumer. But the reality is that the proportion of the final retail price that the farm gate price makes is very, very small these days."

meat
Beef production could become harder
Some environmental groups were disappointed with the reforms.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said farm ministers had managed "only half a deal" which would do little to halt the disastrous decline in farmland birds.

"Support for price cuts was won only in exchange for huge increases in environmentally-destructive compensation payments," said a spokesman.

These payments, to arable farmers, are designed to compensate them for the reduction in subsidies they will face.

'Devastated wildlife'

It also regrets the ministers' failure to redirect money from large intensive farms towards rural development.

The RSPB chief executive, Graham Wynne, said: "This cannot be the final word on CAP reform".

"The CAP has devastated Britain's wildlife for 30 years, and this modest deal only begins to limit its worst excesses.

"We need a new beginning for farmers and the countryside, but this deal isn't it."

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BBC Correspondent Margaret Gilmore: Under the deal the EU will pay less for surplus produce
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11 Mar 99 | Europe
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