Direct payments to farmers are, and should remain, the foundation of the future common agricultural policy (CAP) to deliver the food security the world needs.

Addressing the NFU’s annual conference by video link, new EU agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos admitted that the single farm payment would need to be adjusted to make it more equitable and credible. “It is hard to achieve this by basing payments on production from 2000 to 2002,” he said.

“But we should not forget that many of the benefits provided under the 2nd Pillar (rural development schemes) would simply not be possible without the vital income stability provided by 1st Pillar direct payments, which help to guarantee that the land stays in use in the first place.”

How much funding would be available for the CAP post-2013 was still subject to debate, said Mr Ciolos, and it was therefore important that farmers and politicians explained to the public the benefits of the CAP.

“The provision of safe, sustainable and sufficient food supplies is perhaps the most obvious benefit that too many people in Europe take for granted,” he said.

There would also be a role for agriculture to help mitigate climate change, said Mr Ciolos, and there would need to be additional tools to help farmers combat increasing price volatility.

But it was essential that the policy remained a common policy, rather than having national funding and national policies, he said.

These views were endorsed by NFU president Peter Kendall, who criticised those politicians who sought to eliminate direct support and channel all funding through environmental payments, and those on the Conservative front bench who wanted to see CAP funding re-nationalised.

“That would signal the end of the common policy and simply lead to more competitive distortions within what is meant to be a single European market.”

But Conservative agriculture spokesman Jim Paice insisted his party still wanted a common policy, but was advocating that there was some compulsory, national co-funding, with all member states making a fixed contribution to the EU budget.

“That way you will concentrate the minds of certain member states as to what the actual cost of the CAP is,” he said.

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