NFU rethinks outright farm subsidies opposition

Farmers must begin to accept that CAP reform is likely to impose further environmental conditions on subsidy payments, the NFU has warned.

Rather than continuing its outright opposition to the so-called “greening” of Pillar One support, the union is increasingly working to ensure that any additional measures are fair and achievable, NFU council delegates were told on Tuesday (20 April).

The move is a change in tack for the NFU, which has voiced concern that European Commission proposals to refocus payments will undermine farm competitiveness, be overly bureaucratic and result in questionable environmental benefits.

It follows lobbying in Brussels by conservationists and wildlife groups, as well as the Country Land and Business Association, which has called on the commission to rank environmental measures alongside food security in importance and reward them accordingly.

NFU president Peter Kendall described the CLA’s stance as a “noose around our neck” during CAP reform negotiations. It had made it easier for policy makers to argue that subsidy payments should be shifted from food production towards the environment, he said.

Union leaders now reluctantly accept the likelihood that farmers who receive subsidies will indeed have to implement additional environmental measures. The NFU now plans to ensure those measures do not unfairly penalise Britain’s growers and livestock producers.

NFU policy director Martin Haworth said: “It would be naïve to think the people who are pushing for greening are going to accept a kind of green-wash which paints policies green with nothing changing. They will want their euro of flesh.”

UK policy on CAP reform was no longer driven by DEFRA, said Mr Haworth. It was being driven by the Treasury and the Foreign Office, whose priority was to protect the amount of money repaid by Brussels to the UK, rather than to protect British agriculture.

The NFU was fighting to ensure that any deal to protect Britain’s rebate did not come at the expense of agreeing to cuts in agricultural support, said Mr Haworth. “It is not an easy road we are going to be forced down, and we face big, big dangers,” he warned.