French farm minister Stéphane Le Foll has proposed introducing a third pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which would support farmers’ incomes during periods of market volatility.
The idea was floated at a meeting on 2 September, attended by 21 farm ministers who were invited to discuss the future of the CAP post-Brexit.
The choice of venue for the meeting – an impressive chateau at Chambord in the Loire valley – disgusted some French farmers, who argued that it was insensitive at a time when they are facing an unprecedented crisis.
Neither Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom or farm minister George Eustice were in attendance.
Speaking after a three-hour debate, Mr Le Foll said there was broad consensus among delegates on the need to maintain the budget allocation for the CAP, but to simplify farm rules and adapt the policy to address the challenges of flood security and climate change.
But he added: “We must improve the instruments available to farmers to assist them during periods of crisis,” suggesting the introduction of a third pillar of the CAP to deal with slumps in commodity prices and natural disasters.
Direct payments to farmers currently make up Pillar One of the policy, while payments under rural development and agri-environment schemes fall under Pillar Two.
The introduction of a new system that would help farmers cope with extremes in commodity prices is one growing in popularity within EU circles.
Joost Korte, deputy director-general of DG AGRI, told MEPs last week that managing price volatility should be a key issue in the next round of CAP reforms.
Risk management tools
The Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development has also put forward a draft paper which calls for risk management tools such as an insurance scheme to be developed.
NFU economist Lucia Zitti said that risk management tools were something that the union was also looking at as part of its consultation on the priorities for a post-Brexit farm policy in the UK.
“Whatever domestic policy we end up with, risk management could definitely be part of that policy. We are also trying to push for more measures to improve competitiveness,” she said.
“In our case, it might not be called a third pillar, but it is something we need to replicate at UK level.
“From the talks we are having with farmers, is clear that they recognise a need for a safety net.”