Controversy over CAP capping and coupling plans

Farming unions and environmental groups have given a very mixed response to yesterday’s crucial vote by MEP’s on the future of the CAP.

Elements that could cut red tape for farmers, ease the burden of inspections and allow for more proportionate penalties were generally welcomed.

However, other proposals were criticised by some for potentially distorting the market and discriminating against larger UK farms.

Environmental groups also accused MEPs of “watering down” green proposals, which they say are now in danger of going backwards.

The decision to scrap the proposed requirement for farmers to declare their annual accounts to the RPA was a particularly welcome step, as this would reduce bureaucracy for farmers, said the NFU’s Gail Soutar on the BBC’s Farming Today programme.

But she said capping payments would discriminate against the UK’s larger farms and a possible recoupling of support payments in some areas – such as Scotland or Wales – could keep uncompetitive farmers producing regardless of whether the demand was there from the market, which ultimately disadvantaged all farmers.

“We do recognise that in some remote parts there might be a need for some support to maintain the current level of production, but we do not support the generalised use of coupled support across countries and regions,” she said.

But NFU Scotland’s chief executive Scott Walker said giving member states flexibility on coupling payments to specific sectors was a positive step. So too was the reduction of the ecological focus area requirement from 7% to 3% of land, he said.

“Hopes that European Parliament would accept sheep EID being removed from cross-compliance requirements appear to have been dashed, while other aspects on statutory requirements and GAEC appear more positive,” he added.

There was also “deep disappointment” at the decision to reinstate controversial sheep EID regulations into cross-compliance from NFU Cymru president Ed Bailey, although he too welcomed the flexibility that would help Welsh farmers move more gradually away from the historic basis payments to a new flat-rate system.

“With regards to greening measures, MEPs have sensibly agreed that farm-level restrictions on ploughing of permanent grassland need not be introduced in the first instance and that the Commission’s ludicrous proposal to set aside 7% of land for “ecological focus areas” should be slashed to 3%. However, an extremely disappointing element of yesterday’s vote was that not enough MEPs were able to support the good work farmers are already doing on farms.”

Not enough for environment

But the RSPB’s Jenna Hegarty said the reduction in ecological focus areas was a particular disappointment. “MEPs have stamped their distaste for additional environmental conditions by watering down these environmental proposals. Essentially parliament is setting the bar so low that we’re already doing it, and that’s not a reform.”

A decision to reject a provision to protect wetlands and carbon-rich soils was also disappointing, she added. “We could see this reform going backwards rather than forwards.”

Emma Hockridge, Soil Association head of policy, shared a similar view. “In general the voting does not move us significantly towards an ambitious reform of the CAP, which supports sustainable farming systems and the green economy.

“We are pleased that explicit support schemes for organic farming and agri-environment climate measures in Pillar 2 have been agreed, but we are disappointed that the ring-fencing of 25% of the Rural Development budget for these measures has not been significantly increased. We will continue to fight for a greener CAP in the next round of negotiations.”

Friends of the Earth Europe said the reforms didn’t go far enough and called for much stronger measures to protect the environment and smaller farms.

“Tens of thousands of Europeans have been calling for a farming revolution and the movement against industrial agriculture and factory farms won’t stop here. Politicians must listen to citizens instead of big business and produce a truly green farming policy for Europe,” said Stanka Becheva, food and agriculture campaigner.

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