A “dog’s breakfast” of CAP reform proposals threatens to undermine agrio-environment schemes, NFU president Peter Kendall has warned.
Farmers needed to know whether they would be able to withdraw from agri-environment schemes without penalty if CAP reform requires changes to five-year agreements.
Clarification and clear commitment was needed from Brussels, Mr Kendall told delegates at the Northern Farming Conference on Thursday (3 November).
Environmental stewardship applications had already been drying up in the face of uncertainty over the impact of CAP reform on the schemes, he suggested.
Branding the Commission’s proposals as “a dog’s breakfast”, Mr Kendall warned of the potential unintended consequences of reform.
They included the prospect that plans to “green” the CAP could actually damage the environment by putting off farmers from joining stewardship or frightening them into ploughing up pasture.
“The greening of Pillar One has obvious implications for some measures in the ELS” Mr Kendall told almost 300 delegates at the Harwick Hall Hotel, Sedgefield.
“We are already seeing ELS applications drying up because of the uncertainty over the position of farmers’ agreements in the context of greening proposals.
“Will they be able to count their ELS commitments towards their greening obligations?
“Or will they face a double whammy of greening on top of ELS when the CAP reforms kick in? And, if so, will they be able to leave the ELS without facing a demand for compensation?
“Farmers need answers to those questions, and they need them now.”
Brussels should give a clear undertaking that farmers would be able to withdraw without penalty from stewardship if CAP reform alters the terms of five-year agreements.
In the meantime, Mr Kendall appealed to NFU members not to attempt to second-guess the impact of the reforms by taking pre-emptive action.
“There is still everything to play for in making sense of these proposals”, he said.
“The sensible thing to do is to keep all options open and so limit the unintended consequences of these ill thought-out ideas.”
Mr Kendall also attacked the proposals for their likely impact on farming productivity.
He said: “In a week which has seen the world’s population reach seven billion, agricultural productivity has to be the number one priority for policy-makers.”
A policy framework was needed which encouraged market focus, greater competitiveness and investment if farmers were to produce the food that Britain, Europe and the world needed.
“The commission’s current proposals meet none of those criteria.
“They are a dog’s breakfast of sops to this or that lobby group, which threaten all sorts of unintended, but highly damaging consequences, both for farming and the environment.”
It was hard to say which was the biggest nonsense, said Mr Kendall.
Requirements to grow three crops, the permanent pasture ploughing embargo, or the plan to force farmers to take 7% of land out of production were all unacceptable.
“Between them, they will narrow options, increase costs, reduce output and leave farmers tearing their hair in frustration at the absurdity of it all.”
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