Plans to reform the Common Agricultural Policy are too complex and risk turning the clock back for UK farmers, the government has warned.
Farm minister Jim Paice said plans due to be unveiled by in Europe next week (12 October) needed to be simplified if the industry was going to become more competitive and increase food production.
In a damning criticism of Europe’s farming commissioner, Mr Paice said Dacian Ciolos seemed intent on returning to the past of EU agriculture, to the detriment of British farmers.
Speaking at the Conservative party conference in Manchester on Monday, Mr Paice said the reform – which is expected to be similar to a version leaked in Brussels last month – was concerning.
“I don’t know how CAP’s going to end up but I’m quite worried that proposals the commission are due to publish are turning the clock backwards,” he told and NFU fringe event.
“I think that’s what the commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, wants. DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman and I have spent a great deal of time trying to build relationships in Europe.
“Not seeing UK farmers disadvantaged is at the heart of our approach. We want a simple CAP which helps the industry became more competitive and helps the industry deliver more food with fewer inputs.”
Mr Paice said proposals to ‘green’ Pillar 1 (direct support payments), cap payments and limit subsidies to active farmers brought unnecessary complications to the CAP.
“The complexity that is being attached to Pillar 1 in greening and defining an active farmer is going in the reverse direction,” he told Farmers Weekly.
“Our view is that environmental good is best delivered through Pillar 2 (cross compliance).
“And the ‘active farmer’ element complicates things. We are sympathetic to the principle but defining what ‘active’ means is very difficult.”
Mr Paice said the government wanted to push for a CAP which made UK agriculture more competitive and innovative.
“That’s why we want to see a CAP where a greater proportion of the budget is in Pillar 2,” he added.
“As the global food picture changes we should see food prices rise, which gives farmers the opportunities to earn from the market.
“That’s why we should be looking to phase out and reduce reliance on direct subsidy and increase support for public goods, whether that’s the environment.”
Mr Paice said DEFRA would not accept the Commission’s proposals if they did not work for UK farmers and vowed to debate the plans strongly at an Agriculture Council meeting in Brussels later in the month (20 October).
NFU president Peter Kendall called on Mr Paice to argue for a simplified CAP which did not hinder farmers.
“Farmers in England have been pinched by uniquely complex model of the Single Farm Payment,” he said.
“That wasn’t on your watch, but we want to see CAP reform that changes that. It needs to meet the needs of productive farmers and put our farmers on a level competitive playing field to farmers in the rest of Europe.”
For more on the politics that affect farming, go to our party conference special