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County fights to retain aid status.

Byline: ANDREW FORGRAVE

MEIRIONNYDD would be stripped bare of its farms if the county lost its EU designation as a Less Favoured Area, union leaders have claimed.

The county's LFA designation enables farmers to claim extra subsidies in recognition of the difficulties they face in managing inhospitable landscapes.

But the European Commission is planning to reform its Rural Development Funds and redefine regions which can claim LFA status.

It follows a report by the European Court of Auditors which found that 56% of EU farmland is classed as LFA.

Yet in 1975 just 36% of EU land had LFA status, In the UK, about 43% of land has LFA status but this rises to 80% in Greece and 98% in Luxembourg.

Huw Roberts, NFU Cymru Meirionnydd chairman, said: ``Retaining LFA status is absolutely vital for the continuation of farming in this county. ``Meirionnydd is a rugged but beautiful area. Its unique landscape and important habitats have been created by generations of hill farmers, battling against the elements.

``Farming with an 80-inch rainfall on steep slopes, and stony impoverished soil is extremely difficult. ''

At Meirionnydd County Show yesterday NFU Cymru launched a lobbying campaign which will target AMs and MEPs.

Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, AM for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, was the first to get his ear bent.

Each country currently uses its own rules to decide whether land is eligible for the higher support payments.

The EU is proposing two categories of land which justifies the extra support -- farmland which is in danger of being abandoned and areas where the environment and tourism depend on farming.

Mr Roberts added: ``In our view there can be no question that Meirionnydd and other counties in Wales fit in both these definitions. Therefore the Welsh Assembly must ensure that the LFA boundary is retained as it is. ''

Across Wales 82% of the countryside is currently LFA. In Meirionnydd, where the figure is 100%, it is thought the Assembly is unlikely to change the classification -- especially as the county has been chosen as a pilot area for the new Tir Cymen environmental scheme. However areas like Anglesey, which is 50% LFA, could be more vulnerable.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 26, 2004
Words:359
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Next Article:All hands on deck at `Mudionnydd' Tractors come to the rescue as visitors and exhibitors struggle through quagmire.


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