UK Ministers will continue to push for a relaxation of the rules surrounding the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to permit earlier payments as talks on an EU farm aid package continue this week.
An informal meeting of the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers is taking place in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday to thrash out some of the details of the EU aid package announced last week.
The aid package followed a mass protest in Brussels by 6,000 farmers from across the EU.
Ministers and officials will discuss details of the €500m fund for dairy farmers hit by the market downturn. The outstanding question at EU level is how the fund will be distribute among member states.
The Commission has said there would be ‘particular regard to member states and farmers most affected by market developments’.
This suggests distribution could be linked to export markets lost as a result of the Russian trade ban or a formula that takes into the milk price decrease, for example from, from August 2014 to August 2015.
Farming Minister George Eustice told the EFRA Committee last week the UK figure could be ‘in the region of €40m (£29m), based on the distribution of a similar, but smaller crisis fund in 2009.
The UK regions will have flexibility in how they distribute funds to their farmers. Mr Eustice said there would a trade-off between the simplicity of a hardship fund paid to each dairy farmer and targeting the money at those who most needed it.
Of potentially greater significance to UK farming are ongoing talks about relaxing the rules surrounding BPS to enable payments to be made earlier in the payment.
As things stand, Defra would not risk bypassing some of the individual checks required under scheme in order to bring payments forward because of the risk of huge disallowance fines.
Defra Secretary Liz Truss last week asked the Commission to waive these fines, a move she said would enable many payments in England to brought forward to the start of the December BPD payment window.
To read more about the outstanding issues surrounding the aid package, click here
Speaking ahead of this week’s discussions, Mr Eustice said: “We want to see the Commission move quickly to introduce the support measures they announced last week to help the many farmers suffering cash-flow problems.
“We are still waiting for details about the aid scheme, which needs to be distributed fairly among member states and available quickly to help those most in need.
He added: “I will also be continuing to push the Commission to relax controls around the Basic Payment scheme so that more farmers can be promptly paid.”
Commenting on other longer-term measures included in last week’s action plan, he said: “A futures market for dairy is something we have long argued would benefit the dairy sector, and now that the Commission is introducing a High Level Group to take this forward, we need a commitment they will make rapid progress.
“Improving transparency and fairness in the supply chain is a priority for the UK and I am happy to share more information on our Groceries Code Adjudicator for a potential EU-wide approach.
Mr Eustice said he would also continue to push for further action from the Commission on Country of Origin labelling.