NFU president Meurig Raymond met Prime Minister David Cameron and Defra Secretary Liz Truss at Downing Street on Tuesday (March 15) to discuss the big issues facing the farming sector, including difficulties around finance and borrowing.
This followed a commitment by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan on Monday (March 14) to continue working with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to ‘develop particular financial instruments’ to help farmers and processors invest and improve their competitiveness.
Mr Raymond said there was a commitment made at Downing Street for a ‘meeting at the highest level’ between Defra, Treasury, banks, the NFU and possibly the EIB to discuss possible options for supporting farmers.
He expressed frustration at the lack of progress from the Commission with the EIB, despite repeated promises from Mr Hogan to utilise its funds for food and farming sectors.
Mr Raymond said: “We talked about the EIB and possibilities, not just for investing in the future, but for refinancing existing loans for people who have invested heavily in the last three or four years and are now struggling financially.
“We want to discuss whether some of that investment could be extended over a longer period and whether some of the repayment could be matched to the upside in the current volatility affecting markets.
“We have heard Mr Hogan’s rhetoric about tapping into EIB funds. Now we need to put the mechanics in place. The Prime Minister was pressing for it.”
Mr Raymond also used his meeting with Mr Cameron to push for an extension of the Grocery Code Adjudicator’s remit ‘all parts of the supply chain’ and for improvements to the 2016 Basic Payment Scheme.
Rob Hitch, of Dodd and Co accountants, suggested more flexible repayment of loans, including those tied to improvements in farm commodities, were more an issue of bank regulation and legislation rather than funding.
Farm borrowing has continued to rise to record levels, although at the beginning of this year, some experts pointed to doubts over whether funding would dry up for some farm businesses this year.