English farm leaders fear CAP reform is raw deal

Farm leaders have voiced concern at the effect of the CAP reform deal on farming if governments take the option to move money away from direct support to fund green measures.

A political deal on CAP reform was agreed on Wednesday (26 June), paving the way for a greener CAP across Europe, although member states will be allowed to implement many measures as they see fit.

One of these is the movement of funds from direct support under Pillar 1 to rural development measures in Pillar 2.

DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson told Farmers Weekly that the flexibility meant farmers in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales could be reassured their governments now had complete freedom to deliver a CAP tailored to their individual needs.

“I think it is good these sorts of decisions are made as locally as possible, so all four parts of the UK will now have complete control of all four regulations of the CAP – so there will be a completely Scottish CAP, a completely Welsh CAP and obviously [the same] in England.”

While it is true that policies decided in Brussels can now be tailored to meet local circumstances, the NFU and CLA claim that DEFRA has effectively been given the green light to implement measures that would be detrimental to farmers in England.

Major concern surrounds the go-ahead for member states to transfer up to 15% of direct farm payments to rural development measures. DEFRA is expected to implement this option in full while other countries, including France, are expected to shift money in the opposite direction.

CLA president Harry Cotterell said the reform could “put English farmers at a competitive disadvantage to our Continental neighbours”.

And NFU president Peter Kendall added that the deal granted individual countries too much flexibility. It would result in a CAP that was less common, less market-oriented and more complicated – delivering nothing in terms of a more level playing field for farmers, Mr Kendall warned.

“The government is set upon a road that will penalise English farmers. Why would any government want to make it harder for its country to produce its own food while governments in the rest of Europe are doing the reverse?”

Mr Kendall said he was also concerned that DEFRA had secured the power to introduce its own environmental scheme, which could demand higher standards of UK farmers, rather than implementing minimum European greening measures in return for full farm support.

But Mr Paterson described the suggestion that he wanted to ratchet up greening requirements as a “complete straw dog”. He added: “It is laughable that I want to make life difficult for English farmers – I want to make it as simple as I can.”

The reform deal was greeted with less alarm by farm leaders in Scotland and Wales. But NFU Scotland and the Farmers’ Union of Wales voiced misgivings about some aspects despite being more encouraged by others.

NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller said the option to couple some support payments to livestock, as was currently the case with the Scottish Beef Calf Scheme, could be an essential tool to stabilising and rebuilding declining stock numbers north of the border.

But requirements on crop diversification and ecological focus areas would still place unnecessary restrictions on what could be grown by Scottish farmers and their eligibility for support – even though many were already restricted by geography and climate.

In Wales, NFU Cymru president Ed Bailey welcomed the CAP deal, which he said allowed for the implementation of a scheme that could continue to support Welsh farmers in producing food to world-leading standards. But he also expressed concern.

“NFU Cymru appreciates the significant amount of time and effort our minister {Alun Davies] has put in throughout this reform process to help secure some of the positive changes that manifested themselves in the EU political agreement, but in many ways this is a job half done,” Mr Bailey said.

“How the Welsh government now decides to implement the agreement in Wales with the significant flexibilities [within its power] will be crucial in ensuring that hard-fought gains made in Brussels and Luxembourg do eventually deliver a policy in Wales that supports a profitable agricultural industry.”

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