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WMN opinon: Farmers need support now in battle against regulation

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 18, 2013

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Ask a Westcountry farmer if he or she could change one thing about their world, and right now it would probably be the weather.

But second on the list would be the thorny subject of red tape.

Form filling, regulation, and farm visits have long been a real issue for farmers across the region.

So when the new coalition Government began to make noises about cutting the amount of farm bureaucracy, more than a few pairs of ears began to prick up.

Hopes were raised further when the Government established its Farm Regulation Task Force, chaired by Richard Macdonald, former director general of the National Farmers' Union.

The task force reported back and called for a tranche of measures that would lift the bureaucratic burden on farmers, at a time when agricultural incomes had come under pressure from increased costs and the time farmers could spend form-filling had reduced.

Key among the recommendations was the call for a reduction in the number of farm visits by inspectors, and a change in the Defra mind-set towards helping with problems, rather than censuring and fining farmers through docking their Single Farm Payment subsidies.

The rosy-glow of hope generated by the report back in 2011 now seems a long time ago, and many farmers have accused Defra – never flavour of the month if Westcountry farmyards – of dragging its feet.

Most farmers believe the amount that Defra's central office-based staff know about growing plants and rearing livestock could be written on a Post-it Note and the burden of red tape and regulation has only increased this perception.

Today we report that beef farmers in the Westcountry are angry that their industry is being threatened by overzealous regulation.

They fear the Government is considering reneging on a new arrangement for the finishing of cattle from TB-restricted farms.

And they say the move could hold back the development of the beef sector.

The nightmare of TB continues to haunt Westcountry farms. Thousands of cattle are slaughtered every year because of it, and last year's delay to the badger cull pilots – while understood by most farmers – has not helped change the perception that the powers-that-be are not up to delivering positive change.

Holsworthy based farmer Bill Harper, who chairs the national Beef Association's TB committee, says the Government is overstepping the mark by threatening to withdraw the grazing option for approved finishing units.

The option is essential – with up to a fifth of beef farms in the region under movement restriction because of TB – to help farmers finish their beef cattle for slaughter.

All this, with a Government that professes to be committed to reducing red tape! Our farmers need support now, and now is the time for the Government to give it to them.

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  • eponymice  |  January 19 2013, 11:03AM

    I suppose the question is do farmers want the available subsidies and if so is it not right that there should regulations to ensure that the subsidies are distributed correctly and that those that wish to take advantage of the subsidies stick to the rules that the subsidies are dependent on? The farmers will be aware of the rules when they sign up to receive the subsidies so if they exercise due diligence I agree that there should be no need for all the inspections. A quick look online does, however, reveal that there were over 2000 breaches of the rules brought to light by farm inspections during 2011, which does seem to indicate that there is a clear need for them to continue in order to ensure that what is ultimately taxpayers money is distributed only to those who stick to the subsidy rules.

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  • bullocks400  |  January 18 2013, 6:47PM

    Well said. Help, understanding or support from Defra, NE or any of the other numerous 'agencies' is a pipe dream. They, in common with the government, care only for their salaries and their own agendas. Hope for a hungry nation and then perhaps farms and farming may be valued again.

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