9 August 2002

CAP reforms centre stage

With harvest delayed by

grey skies and drizzle, the

partners at Le Mont Hardy

in northern France have

had ample time to weigh up

the pros and cons of CAP

reform. Europe editor,

Philip Clarke, reports

ONE subject has dominated the national agricultural debate in France in recent weeks – the mid-term review of Agenda 2000.

At Le Mont Hardy the measures put on the table by EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, last month will have little direct impact. Pig production is pretty much free of Brussels interference, while dairying is not due for further reform until 2008 at the earliest.

But there are still some important principles at stake.

English partner, John Lee, is pleased to see cross-compliance built into the proposals, especially as a tool for reducing surplus production. But he is sceptical about whether it will change anything. "By the time all the vested interests have had their say, any attempt at eco-conditionality will be so watered down as to amount to nothing," he predicts. "Large-scale, intensive agriculture will still predominate."

Mr Lee is also disappointed that there is no attempt to include "job creation" as one of the conditions for receiving aid. "We need to consider the social needs of some of the poorer parts of Europe, as well as the environmental impact of what we do," he says.

But his greatest gripe is that the proposals do little to change the distribution of direct payments within the agricultural sector. "The situation where 80% of the CAP budget goes to just 20% of the largest farmers will continue, even though, with economies of scale, they are the ones who need it least."

The planned aid ceiling of k300,000 (£188,000) is far too high, he says, and will only affect a handful of farmers – principally the barley barons of the affluent Paris basin.

Compulsory modulation – taking up to 20% off direct aids and using that money for rural development – could help, he admits, though only if the funds are used effectively. Experience with modulation so far in France has not been encouraging, and the policy was abandoned.

As for decoupling support from production and basing future payments on past receipts, Mr Lee agrees that such a system would be simpler to administer. But it could disadvantage the partners at Le Mont Hardy.

"Since we took the decision to drop maize from our production system, our annual claim for area aid has dropped from 45ha to around 30ha," says Mr Lee. Combined with a slaughter premium of k53 a head (£33) on 14 cull cows last year, total direct payments in 2001 came to just under k11,000 (£6930).

But at least at that level of aid, Le Mont Hardy should avoid modulation. Dr Fischlers plans allow for up to k5000 a year (£3150) in direct payments on farms with up to two labour units, before modulation kicks in. Thereafter, the threshold goes up an extra k3000 (£1880) for each extra worker.

With four full-time staff, Le Mont Hardy should receive its aid cheque in full.

But, while the mid-term review has made for interesting discussion, the real emphasis has been on getting this years harvest in. Just one lap of the first field of organic wheat was possible last week before the rain came and the John Deere 970 was returned to the machinery shed.

"At 13% moisture and 78kg/hl, we were pretty pleased," says Mr Lee. "Generally the fields look clean, with few docks and thistles, and most of the crops are still standing. The frustration has been watching the drizzle and waiting to get going again."

Of the 30ha (74 acres) of cereals grown this year, 5ha (12.5 acres) are down to winter wheat (Pajero), 13ha (32 acres) to triticale (Arc en Ciel and Rotego), 6ha (15 acres) to a wheat/triticale mix and another 6ha to a triticale/oats/peas mix.

"We plan to include the mix at the end of our three-year rotation on a regular basis. The peas provide useful protein for our organic dairy ration and the crop is also disease and weed resistant."

The partners have recently invested k720 (£456) in a pair of electrically driven vertical knives to attach to either end of the combine header, to help cut through the peas, which have become very tangled with the other crops.

In the past, all the cereals grown at Le Mont Hardy have been retained for feeding to the cows and pigs. But that policy will change this year.

"Currently, only our dairy herd is in conversion for organic," says Mr Lee. "The pigs will come later. It, therefore, makes sense to just retain what we need for the cows and sell the rest for a premium."

He estimates that the dairy enterprise will need about 70t of triticale and triticale/oats/peas mix. Depending on yields, that should leave about the same again of wheat and triticale to market.

There are a number of organic farmers in the region who want to buy the "in-conversion" grains and, while prices have yet to be determined, Mr Lee believes a 50% premium is achievable. &#42

FARMFACTS

&#8226 Le Mont Hardy, a 112ha (277 acre) dairy and pig unit near Putanges in the heart of Normandy, France.

&#8226 Farmed by John Lee, in partnership with Benoit and Gilles Delaunay.

&#8226 Mixed soil types, growing 80ha (198 acres) of grass and clover, plus 30ha (74 acres) of cereals.

&#8226 Dairy herd made up of 72 Friesians, plus followers.

&#8226 Pig herd made up of 42 Large White Landrace hybrids, with 800 finishers a year.

&#8226 Dairy currently in organic conversion.

&#8226 Pigmeat sold direct to consumers.