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The NFU is urging the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be especially sensitive to the impact of the Budget on the farming community while they are facing the catastrophe of foot and mouth disease.

NFU President Ben Gill said: "Farmers are on the edge at the moment -scared, frustrated and anxious. Anything the Chancellor announces next week which adds to their burden could tip them over the edge."

The planned pesticides tax and the recently introduced climate change levy both threaten to substantially increase the industry's costs while not achieving their environmental objectives.

High fuel taxes, which hit everyone in the countryside, and an aggregates tax which would increase the cost of quarried stone used to build farm tracks, also have the potential to add to farmers' bills.

Mr Gill said: "Every year at this time we make contact with Gordon Brown, setting out what we want to see from his Budget. But this year we are in a uniquely critical situation.

"There are so many farmers out there who will be wondering over the coming days: "could foot and mouth hit my farm next?" They will be fearfully awaiting next week's Budget to see what more could be thrown at them."

He said: "We have been in lengthy negotiations with Government to provide alternative voluntary measures to the pesticides tax. We believe these proposed measures are credible and have a far greater potential to deliver environment benefits than a bureaucratic, costly and unfocussed tax."

He added: "The NFU is still trying to work out how driving pig, poultry and horticultural businesses out of business with the climate change levy will stop global warming - other countries will soon step in to fill the gap andwill use just as much fuel as us. But then they will use more fuel to sendtheir produce to us.

"Anything other than a complete exemption for agriculture and horticulture,as elsewhere in the EU, would be sheer madness."

The NFU is also calling for capital allowances for plant and machinery to counteract the fall in investment in agriculture as well as a scheme to enable farmers to write off new purchases of milk quota over seven years for tax purposes.

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