Green schemes &farming for profit…incompatible?

19 April 2002

Green schemes &farming for profit…incompatible?

By Jeremy Hunt

North-west correspondent

ALTHOUGH agri-environment schemes have been operating for 10 years, they have brought about no fundamental change in European agriculture.

"The focus of agricultural policy still encourages modernisation, rationalisation and restructuring to make production more competitive in markets gearing towards economic globalisation," said Jerry Tallowin of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research.

Presenting a paper to the British Grassland Society and British Ecological Societys Conservation Pays conference, he said all recent EU regulations affecting agriculture made these objectives clear. But they were generally tempered with the statement that agriculture would be made more environmentally friendly.

"This apparent contradiction is real and raises the question of whether, and to what degree, these two objectives can genuinely co-exist without a physical separation."

Mr Tallowin believed there was an opportunity for governments to introduce greater flexibility to livestock systems by targeting payments towards certain categories of producer. They could also create a more imaginative use of extensification payments which would provide additional support for ecologically meaningful stocking densities.

He told the conference that he believed the European Court of Auditors was correct in arguing that agri-environment measures had made limited impact on more intensively farmed areas.

However, Dutch research should raise questions about the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes. Mr Tallowin reported that schemes introduced in remote, less-intensively farmed areas had often introduced over-complicated and highly prescriptive measures. "Instead of enhancing diversity, they conspire to homogenise it."

He was concerned about the negative impact of one agri-environment scheme, underway on the Isle of Islay. Efforts to increase the number of corncrakes on the island had led to a change in the pattern and timing of hay and silage making.

"Previously this was a patchwork of fields of mowing grass, aftermaths and re-growth which lasted from early June to late August. Today most fields are cut in early August.

"The result has produced no corncrakes. Choughs, another seabird, have suffered as their breeding success relies on a succession of mown-grass aftermaths for its fledglings ."


&#8226 Little change to farming.

&#8226 More payments possible.

&#8226 Restrictions can backfire.

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