The folly of the CAP - UKIP MEP's blog
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Wed Apr 11 10:35:42 BST 2012
Yes, It's a U-Kipper -
The folly of the CAP - Posted on April 5, 2012
We all agree that the European Unions Common
Agricultural Policy needs reform. But in the UK,
it seems that very few farmers agree with the
proposals coming forward from the EUs
Commissioner for Agriculture, Dacian
Ciolos. Commissioner Ciolos is Romanian, and a
relatively young 42. He is nonetheless a man
with a wide experience in administrative and
bureaucratic posts, but has never, so far as I can ascertain, been a farmer.
Last Monday, April 2nd, saw me in deepest
Lincolnshire, at the farm of NFU County Chairman
Ian Stancer (second from the left in the picture,
with other NFU colleagues and a golden retriever
puppy; photo credit Simon Fisher of NFU).
Farmers receive 70% of their CAP payments on an
acreage basis (I refuse to write hectarage),
subject to cross-compliance that is, to
meeting a plethora of EU-imposed environmental
standards. Then the other 30% will be subject to
meeting yet more environmental desiderata, which
are themselves the subject of current
negotiation. But three of Commissioner Ciolos ideas are causing real concern.
The first is triple cropping. Brussels will
insist that all farms grow at least three
crops. But this is a rather arbitrary condition
that may well fly in the face of agricultural and
market pressures. Some farms specialise in one
or two crops, and their plans and their equipment
are geared to those crops. It may be that their
soil, topography or micro-climate are
particularly suited to those crops so why grow something else?
While large farms may be able to take three crops
in their stride, it will cause huge
inefficiencies in small farms, where it may be
uneconomic to grow any one crop on a third of a
small acreage. I was struck by the comments of
Sarah Dawson, National Chairman of the NFUs
Board for Horticulture. She runs a relatively
small farm which concentrates on purple sprouting
broccoli. The whole operation the skills, the
management, the staffing, the equipment are
geared to that one crop. She has real depth of
experience in that crop, and a high reputation
with her customers, including major supermarket
groups. Her haulage, logistics and marketing are
geared to one crop. We ask farmers to respond to
market demand. Sarah Dawson is doing just that,
and an arbitrary rule that she should grow
something else makes no sense at all.
Nor is it clear what constitutes three
crops. Supposing a vegetable grower specialises
in brassicas, of which there are many
varieties. Do three varieties of brassica
represent three crops? Or one? The same evening
at a different function I met a farmer who is big
in cauliflowers. He has experimented with purple
cauliflowers. Are white and purple cauliflowers
two crops? Or one? So far, no one knows.
Sometimes a group of small farmers will form a
cooperative to farm their adjacent farms as a
larger unit, for economies of scale. But if each
individual farm is required to triple-crop, those
economies of scale are largely vitiated.
The second requirement, for ecological areas,
amounts to little more than a new name for
set-aside. But many UK farmers are already
engaged in British environmental stewardship
schemes, which involve reserving areas for
wildlife. Will farmers be able to count this
same land against the new criteria? Or do they
have to set aside twice, for the UK scheme and
for the EU scheme? Again, no one knows. And the
whole concept of set-aside is deeply flawed. We
face a world where food supplies are increasingly
tight. We worry about food security, and about
excessive imports of food that we should be able
to grow ourselves. Setting aside good productive
land in Lincolnshire at the behest of Brussels is surely folly.
Thirdly, they are asked to create permanent
pasture. If were asking them to create
old-fashioned hay meadows full of wild-flowers,
all very well (though not very productive). But
the pastureland is likely to be cropped early for
silage and late for hay, and will grow very few
wild-flowers. Meantime it will reduce
productivity, and devalue the farmers most precious asset his land.
I suggested that a derogation for smaller farms
would help. And there is one at three
hectares, the size of a large pony paddock. 100
hectares would hardly be enough. But theres a
more fundamental question. Why do we think that
Commissioner Ciolos, sitting in his
air-conditioned office in Brussels, knows more
than the local farmer about what a farm should
produce in Lincolnshire? The phrase one size
fits all has become a cliché, yet it surely
applies here. I asked several times why the
Commissioner wanted triple cropping but even
the NFU seems to have little idea. Because the
public want it is the nearest we got. But I
represent 4.2 million members of the public, and
not one of them, ever, has expressed to me his
concern about the lack of triple cropping.
Pity the poor farmer, hedged about with rules and
tick-boxes and admin, when he just wants to grow
food. No wonder its proving so difficult to
bring young people into the industry, and why the
average age of British farmers is well very nearly my age.
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