Conference words spell
demise of direct farm aid
By Philip Clarke
DIRECT aids to farmers seem certain to be cut following next years mid-term review of Agenda 2000, as politicians seek to transfer more funds to the rural development aspects of the CAP.
Speaking at this weeks Where Next For European Agriculture conference in London, DEFRA minister Margaret Beckett and German agriculture minister Renate Kunast insisted the time for change had come.
"Too frequently we see animals kept in too little space and transported to the fattener or abattoir over hundreds of kilometres," said Ms Kunast. "We hear of land and water damaged by excessive fertilisation and by chemical plant protection. Taxpayers are asking whether it is right to continue to pay billions for this type of agriculture."
This view was echoed by Mrs Beckett, who said the CAP had failed to deliver on its objectives, had obstructed sustainable development and had prevented farmers from responding freely to consumer demands. "Consumers and taxpayers are demanding better value for money, as well as a greater reflection of animal welfare and environmental concerns."
The "appalling tragedy" of foot-and-mouth disease had accelerated the need for change, she added. Both ministers said that next years mid-term review of Agenda 2000 provided an opportunity to turn things around.
"The rural development regulation should be expanded as a key mechanism for delivering environmental, economic and social goals," said Mrs Beckett. "The key to this is to reduce direct aids."
Ms Kunast also promised to "make every effort to ensure that a reinforcement of the second pillar of the CAP and compulsory modulation EU-wide will be achieved in the mid-term review." She claimed the support of French farm minister, Jean Glavany, in this.
The ministers views got a generally warm reception at the RSPB-organised event.
NFU vice president, Michael Paske, said it was inevitable that more money would be channelled towards the "second pillar", though it would have to be done sensitively. "Im quite happy with the idea of modulation, but farmers must see that money come back to help them."
Jim Ward of land agent, FPDSavills, warned of the dangers of modulating direct income aids if they discriminated against the UKs larger farmers. The situation was also complicated by the fact rural development projects have to be joint-funded.
But David Turner of PriceWaterhouseCoopers was enthusiastic about increasing the rural development budget. It would free many farmers from the constraints of the CAP, allowing them to profit from their land in a wider variety of ways. *