Agriculture Minister Nick Brown's statement at the NFU's annual conference and AGM yesterday that the increase in TB in the British cattle herd must not be allowed to continue was greeted with applause by farming delegates.

The Minister said he was looking at what additional measures could be taken to stop the disastrous spread of bovine TB, which is currently rising by 23% annually.

Applauding the public pledge, NFU President Ben Gill said there was now a desperate need for urgent action on this issue. A wider debate in Parliament -while welcome - should not delay this.

Mr Gill said: "It is good that the Minister recognises the very serious problems in terms of cattle welfare and the distress being caused to farming families of allowing the problem of TB in this country to worsen.

"The need for interim measures to such as action outside the trial areas in the new "hotspot" areas is undeniable."

On other measures, the Minister's opposition to the proposed pesticides tax and his commitment to work with the NFU and others on a voluntary alternative was of some comfort to farmers. But what farmers really wanted to hear was that plans for a tax would be shelved once and for all.

He said: "There will be no let up in the pressure from the NFU against the pesticides tax and also on the other environmental tax, the Climate Change Levy.

"It is good that the Minister stated his intention for meetings to resolve the issue of state aids and the CCL. But at the end of the day, nothing less than the complete exemption of farmers and growers from the levy will do."

Following concerted NFU lobbying, the Minister also announced today his intention to "roll forward" the 2000 budget for the Farm Business Advisors scheme into 2000/1.

Mr Gill said this is extremely good news as it will ensure the £8 million budgeted for business advice will be spent on helping farm businesses.