The folly of the CAP - UKIP MEP's blog

Tony Gosling tony at
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 Union’s Common 
Agricultural Policy needs reform.  But in the UK, 
it seems that very few farmers agree with the 
proposals coming forward from the EU’s 
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 NFU’s 
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 we’re 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 farmer’s 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 there’s 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 it’s 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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