NSA encouraged by clear messages from Secretary of State

The National Sheep Association (NSA) was encouraged by the clear responses given by Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in a meeting at the end of last week (Friday 29th April).

A small group of NSA office holders took the opportunity to welcome Mrs Truss to Elvedon Farms, Suffolk, which is near to her own constituency and also where NSA Trustee Andrew Foulds runs a large number of sheep. The location and timing of the meeting meant the discussion was dominated by the EU referendum, proposals to release lynx in nearby Thetford Forest, and administration problems with the Basic Payment Scheme.

Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “As a strong and vocal supporter of the UK remaining in the EU, Mrs Truss made a strong case for staying in to protect our export markets and to cater for the regulations and controls we need for wider global trade. She explained that no non-EU country has complete access to the EU market – and many of our members would agree with her view that an EU exit would be bad for most business activity, but particularly so for agriculture and sheep farming due to our highly protected status as an industry. We also felt Mrs Truss made clear her views about the unlikelihood of future financial support for agriculture in the event of coming out of Europe.

“We were encouraged by what we felt was a clear indication from Mrs Truss that she is opposed to the potential release of lynx into Thetford Forest, and felt she was very taken with our arguments about the damage such a release could have on heathland and grassland in East Anglia, where so much investment into biodiversity has been made in recent years.”

NSA outlined the challenge facing many sheep farmers who have not yet received their 2015 Basic Payment Scheme money or payment statement, yet were expected to submit their 2016 claim before Monday 16th May. Mrs Truss provided clarity on this issue and intimated that the message coming from RPA should have been clearer.

Mr Stocker continues: “It was good to finally have some clarity on this issue and assurance that farmers who are paid after 16th May will not be penalised should they inadvertently submit an incorrect claim. Our understanding following the meeting is that 2016 claims made online will be automatically updated once RPA has made the final calculations for the 2015 payment, and paper applications can be changed without penalty. NSA continues to urge members to meet the 16th May deadline, however difficult it may be for those people still not in receipt of their 2015 payment statement, and would welcome more clarity from RPA that farmers will not be penalised for errors outside of their control.

“NSA still believes a level of tolerance is critical with the sheep identification regulations, but we were heartened to hear suggestions from Mrs Truss that cross compliance penalties for tagging issues will be more proportionate from now on, and that Defra is committed to fighting at an EU level for simplification within the Basic Payment Scheme. We made it clear just how frustrated farmers are by red tape and regulation that so often comes out of the EU. We feel that Mrs Truss accepted this, as well as acknowledging that progress already made needs to be better communicated.”

Dan Phipps, NSA Eastern Region Chairman, says: “We were encouraged by Mrs Truss’s handle on the issues that are concerning NSA members in this region, and why she feels so strongly that the sheep sector will be advantaged by the UK remaining in the EU. We felt she had a clear empathy with many of our concerns, and in particular proposals to release lynx within her own constituency and rewilding in general.”

Meeting Mrs Truss were:-

Richard Evans, sheep farmer (West Harling, Norfolk) and NSA Eastern Region Committee Member.
Andrew Foulds, sheep farmer (Elveden, Suffolk), NSA Trustee and NSA Eastern Region Committee Member.
James Holliday, Elveden Farms Forestry and Conservation Manager.
Dan Phipps, sheep farmer (Newmarket, Suffolk), NSA UK Policy and Technical Committee Chairman, and NSA Eastern Region Chairman.
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive.

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