It is well-documented that I hate CAP.
I don’t like to go on about the fact, but every time the wretched thing pops up in a new, absurd format it sets me off again.
Having had time to familiarise myself with the new scheme over Christmas, I am freshly enraged. I hate the new version even more than the old.
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The original objectives of the CAP, to protect our market and maintain prices to producers, were logical enough. This stability enabled European agriculture to develop significantly.
Since then the scheme has had so many mangled alterations that now no one can remember what it looked like in the first place.
It’s like one of those grotesque Hollywood celebrities who have had so much cosmetic surgery that the plastic surgeon has stopped taking things seriously and is playing for laughs.You are left with something resembling a bum with facial features drawn on using mascara and lipstick.
I was unimpressed by the last reform when Defra opted for a scheme for calculating farm payments initially related to historic receipts. Rewarding farmers for what they used to do is pretty damning for any farmer with plans for the future.
This latest reform, which favours Pillar 1 payments on an area basis, follows in much the same vein. It wouldn’t surprise me if, in the next reform, they give up completely and opt for RPA case-workers driving around the countryside randomly giving briefcases of cash to anyone wearing a jumper with a pheasant on it.
In my most cynical moments, I wonder if the EU is actually trying to make the scheme unpopular with voters.
I am not fundamentally opposed to the principle of taxpayers’ money going to farmers. The EU has a duty to make sure that its citizens have something to eat. The EU also enforces high standards in areas such as employment regulations, chemical use and pollution.
For this reason, it has a responsibility to protect compliant farmers from foreign competition which fails to uphold these values. The problem is that it isn’t clear how the CAP is delivering results in any of these respects.
“The cash ends up in the pockets of wealthy landowners and multi-national agrochemical companies while farmer numbers keep falling.” Matthew Naylor
The latest reform certainly hasn’t been designed to benefit the taxpayer. There are no means by which it can stabilise food supply or prices. It makes no attempt to influence healthy dietary habits.
It does very little to encourage carbon sequestration or water conservation. The new requirements for “greening” are so pitifully unambitious that they almost show contempt for our natural environment. Maybe Defra imagines that these 1m buffer strips will contain neat queues of red deer, owls and lapwings enjoying their habitat, but I do not share their ludicrous optimism.
At the same time, the scheme is failing to address the areas where farmers genuinely need help. EU farmers are not globally competitive: our relative productivity is falling, we are highly dependent on imported inputs, weather patterns are changing, we are failing to translate science into action – these are all areas where EU money should be encouraging change.
Instead the cash ends up in the pockets of wealthy landowners and multi-national agrochemical companies while farmer numbers keep falling.
It is time that we stopped taking support payments for granted and made sure that they are fed into the industry in a justifiable way.
Farming representatives should consider this when they are lobbying in Westminster and Brussels. If we fail to demonstrate the public benefit of these payments we will lose them altogether.
Matthew Naylor farms 162ha (400 acres) of Lincolnshire silt in partnership with his father, Nev. Cropping includes potatoes, vegetables, cut flowers and flowering bulbs. Matthew is a Nuffield scholar.