I have never felt such an urge to write to my MP and MEP.
Recent proposals for CAP reform are so heavily weighted against progressive UK farming that I hope my letter will be one of many that they receive.
A “capping of payments” and the requirement to be an “active farmer” may grab the cheap headlines, but of much greater consequence are the plans for “mandatory greening” and “crop diversification”.
Commissioner Dacian Ciolos can be seen talking through his proposals in a slick EU video. The backdrop is a farm in mainland Europe and, although his white open-neck shirt and tailored blue suit look slightly out of place, his manner is personable as he empathises with the challenges that farming faces. He talks of how the reform needs to balance food security with good resource management while maintaining a territorial balance within the EU.
So far so good.
Then we see a clapped-out Fiat tractor (circa 1975) driven by an elderly farmer driving at a snail’s pace though a field with his son, walking alongside rogueing. Mr Ciolos starts talking in a language as old as the tractor.
“We need to offer incentives to integrate environmentally friendly practices into everyday farming.” Has no one told the Commissioner that UK farmers have been doing this for the past 20 years?
Under “mandatory greening”, farms will have “ecological focus areas” that will extend to at least 7% of their eligible hectares. Why do I get a sense of déjà vu?
Many UK farmers are unaware that this 7% of land in EFAs would be over and above any area that is currently entered into ELS and HLS schemes in the UK.
For many HLS agreements, this would remove nearly 20% of the farm’s land from food production. But what about food security?
More than six million hectares (70%) of UK farmland is in an environment scheme.
If this inequality is not addressed, I can see ELS and HLS agreements being torn up like confetti.
Curiously, organic farms are exempt from the mandatory greening. Why organics and not LEAF, Conservation grade or FWAG farms?
Conventional and organic husbandry operate cheek-by-jowl on our farm.
Surveys clearly show that biodiversity is equally rich on both sides of the hedge, be it organic and conventional. On what basis can the Commission discriminate?
If mandatory greening across Europe brings other countries in line with current UK standards, I agree it would benefit the environment. But I question how his proposed “crop diversification” will, as he claims, “benefit the competitiveness of European agriculture”.
In essence, crop diversification is an attempt to steer EU farming away from mono-cropping. In practice, this will put pay to dairies that grow only grass and maize, and collaborative or large farming businesses that block crop individual farms in the interest of efficiency.
DEFRA, the RPA and Natural England have all reduced their workforce in the past year. Bureaucracy will inevitably increase with these proposals and place an enormous burden on their already stretched resources.
Mr Ciolos claims he is simplifying the CAP while responding to the challenges of food security and resource management.
My MP will receive a letter in the morning explaining why I think that the Commissioner’s suggestions will increase bureaucracy and disadvantage UK farming. I encourage you to do the same.
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