‘Bonkers’ proposals – better than status quo

A leaked memo of the 2013 CAP proposed by the European Commission has fallen into my possession. It’s a complicated set of proposals so, for the benefit of readers, I have tried to distill it down to the main points:

Environmental element – crop diversification

This measure is designed to reverse the trend, in predominantly arable counties, towards “block planting” whole groups of fields with a single crop. Such a practice is believed to be partly responsible for the continuing decrease in farmland bird populations. Hence, after 2013, any arable area over one hectare in size must include 25 different crops (any individual crop area to be between 1% and 4%). Such crops must be sown in strips with a hand hoe, although a degree of mechanisation will be permitted in the case of potatoes, with a wheelbarrow being allowed to carry the bulky seed into the field.


Because UK farms are eight times larger than the EU average this has created the anomaly that some UK farmers receive very large single farm payments. So prosperous have such farmers become they no longer feel it appropriate to wear the traditional humble cloth cap. Visit any French farm and berets or caps abound. Similarly, at a Welsh sheep sale, all the vendors will be wearing a cap but who are those buyers on the rail, from the eastern counties, who think that they can stand there displaying the full horror of their thinning mullets?

Little wonder that the EU is proposing to introduce a “capping” measure. This long-overdue reform will introduce a progressive reduction in direct payments until every farmer is reduced to such penury that they will once more wear a cap. As one European Commission source, who did not wish to be named, put it to me: “We bail out peasants not plutocrats. We are fed up with those fellows from your National Farmers Union turning up in Brussels with their sharp suits telling us they all need a €200,000 a year handout.”

Active farmer payments

It has come to the notice of the European Commission that, since de-coupling of direct payments in 2005, some farmers have been pocketing their single farm payments and handing over the day-to-day farming of their holdings to third parties through contract farming or share-farming arrangements. Even more worryingly, on marginal hill land, some farmers are reported to have almost given up farming and have allowed the land to deteriorate through bracken or scrub encroachment. To tackle this problem it is proposed that only “active farmers” will receive a single farm payment from 2013.

To enforce this measure, the European Commission is proposing that farmers are fitted with an electronic eartag which can be read by a scanner at livestock markets, agricultural engineers or shows like the Royal Highland or Bath and West. This so-called Electronic Identification (EID) of Farmers proposal has proved controversial with farmer organisations who say that it will be expensive to implement and onerous upon those expected to keep detailed records of farmer movements. An alternative proposal to fit an ankle tag to farmers, so that their daily movements around their farms can be tracked by a satellite, is also under consideration. But there are worries that farmers might switch their tag to a well-trained collie while they sit and watch Sky Sports or the Shopping Channel.

The reforms are not due to take effect unitl 2014, but the European Commission is to be congratulated for coming up with a set of proposals that are almost as bonkers as the existing system of supporting farmers’ incomes.

Stephen Carr runs an 800ha (1,950-acre) sheep, arable and beef farm on the South Downs near Eastbourne in partnership with his wife, Fizz. A third of the acreage is in conversion to organic status.

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