Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness has called for a holistic approach to agriculture and the environment that takes the benefits of research work to farm level.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday (3 January) about food and agriculture and the future direction of the CAP, Mrs McGuinness said there was a “defect” in our system of research and advisory services to farming across the EU.
“Currently we have farm organisations talking about farming, non-governmental organisations talking about biodiversity and environmental issues, with too little discussion between these groups about the way forward,” she said.
“We need a holistic system of advisory services for farming which incorporates all of the environmental issues of concern, translating research into workable solutions at farm level. While it is taking shape in some member states, it is absent in many.”
Mrs McGuinness, Fine Gael MEP for Ireland East, said there was a wide range of views about the future direction of the CAP. Specifically, the EU commission has been criticised for proposing measures to make the policy greener and fairer.
In line with the new objectives of the EU 2020 strategy for “smart, sustainable and inclusive growth”, she said the stated objectives of the new CAP are viable food production, sustainable management of natural resources and balanced territorial development.
Mrs McGuinness, who serves on the European Parliament’s agriculture and rural development committee and committee on the environment, public health and food safety, highlighted some of hot topics being debated surrounding the new CAP.
She said territorial balance and ensuring the survival of farming in difficult and remote areas of the EU was a “key issue”.
“The territorial aspect of the CAP is perhaps its unique selling point and that desire to keep rural areas attractive as places to live, work in and visit is important,” she said.
“Pillar 2, rural development policy is regarded as highly significant to ensure territorial balance, but so too are direct payments in Pillar 1.”
The abolition of milk quotas in 2015 was a “cause for concern” for some MEPs who fear milk production will end in disadvantaged areas where farmers struggle to make money, she said.
“Currently we have farm organisations talking about farming, non-governmental organisations talking about biodiversity and environmental issues, with too little discussion between these groups about the way forward.”
Mairead McGuineess, MEP
“This concern is fuelling debate about how to use the CAP to avoid these undesirable consequences,” she added.
Likewise, there was growing attention being paid to the “vulnerable” livestock sector in the EU, said Mrs McGuinness.
Several member states want to ensure that the sector is not negatively affected by the proposal to move direct payments to a flat rate per hectare.
And Mrs McGuinness said a fundamental question of the reforms was whether it was justifiable to give the same level of payment to each hectare regardless of what farming system was practiced, especially when the labour requirement differs so widely across the sectors.
“The flat rate system as it operates in England will be worth reflecting on,” she added.
Mrs McGuinness said there was strong opposition to the three greening measures – crop diversification, permanent pasture and ecological focus areas (EFAs) as being “too prescriptive and likely to lead an unwelcome increase in bureaucracy on farms”.
In particular, she said critics were strongly opposed to the requirement by farmers to have 7% ecological focus areas on their farms – dubbed “set-aside” from the outset – at a time when grain prices were high and consumers were under pressure to pay the price.
A “blank, one-size-fits-all” approach, favoured by the commission, was unacceptable, she added.
Mrs McGuinness said the European Parliament’s agricultural committee was on course to vote on a series of amendments to the EU Commission’s CAP reform proposals.
If all goes to plan, ministers will be ready to conclude the CAP reform budget and process by the end of June, under the current six-month Irish presidency of the EU.
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