I’ve been thinking about the proposed CAP reform and chatting to a few people about it too.

The attempt to move towards more equal payments across the EU cannot be other than fair – probably.  This is the agricultural equivalent of the idea of contraction and convergence.  If it were decided to do the same thing within the UK as is intended across the EU, Scottish farmers would be holding out their hands for some money from English and Northern Irish farmers – that’ll be fun in a partly devolved UK.

The proposed capping of Pillar 1 payments to 300,000 euros seems to me to be a good idea and perfectly fair.  If there were a ‘Single Supermarket Payment’ supporting the sellers of food rather than the producers of food’s raw materials then would you really want Tesco to get huge payments from the taxpayer compared with your corner grocer?  Might you not say ‘Hang on! You’re a massive business and you don’t need a handout from your customers’ taxes.’.  So might it be with land owners.

The unintended collateral damage of capping is that landowning conservation organisations will be capped too.  Personally I think that is fair enough too.  Charities can’t expect to benefit from public policies which are basically wrong-headed.  The RSPB, for one, has long argued for reductions in Pillar 1 payments so I’m sure they will be happy that they are being reduced (maybe a bit more quickly for themselves than for some other farmers though).  I hope that the National Trust, RSPB and Wildlife Trusts do not argue against capping just because capping does not suit their own interests.  I guess the federal nature of the Wildlife Trusts means that it is not much of an issue for them anyway.

Having compulsory Environmental Focus Areas is a good idea.  If they make up 7% of the farmed area (I bet the NFU will be lobbying like mad to get this figure lowered) then their impact on agricultural production will be very small.  Many farms will qualify already – I wonder how much of the RSPB’s Hope Farm would already qualify and how much of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Loddington project would already qualify?  Remember that hedges and small (lots of scope for argument over that!) woods all qualify to make up part of the 7% total. And given the possibility to include the least productive parts of any farm in the EFAs any impact on the economics or productivity of the farmed landscape will be negligible – surely? Whereas the biodiversity benefit could be considerable.

The criterion for who counts as an active farmer might be a bit tricky for some NGOs too – the direct payments have to be at least 5% of your non-agricultural income for you to quality.  So if, say, Vodaphone own some fields they can’t claim on them?  Not even if they own hundreds of fields because Vodaphone is a very big business?  Interesting.

If 30% of the Pillar 1 payments are for ‘green stuff‘ can you get the other two thirds if you don’t want to do the ‘green stuff’?  That’s not clear to me.

But it is interesting that being an organic farm will ‘count’ as enough ‘green stuff’ to get the Pillar 1 payments.  I wonder what happens on big, partly organic farms?

There’s plenty of scope for change and plenty of scope for consfusion at the moment.  I am a bit confused so anyone who would like to make it all clear is very welcome to leave a comment here.

Here is a well-informed commentary from IEEP.

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9 Replies to “CAP”

  1. Hi Mark,think there are always going to be some abnormalities and some loopholes plus some grey areas but I think that under the financial circumstances of the EU this is about as good as it could be which I tend to think from your blog is probably what you think(not meaning to put words in your mouth).Think it a real pity that whatever comes out in proposals like these some organisations always find fault and want more just for them.Of course all sides will always wish for more but these seem about as fair as anyone could make them.
    For instance the 7% would probably have meant a substantial area being much less productive on the farm we had which we would have accepted but at a guess would have meant 4% less income,the interesting thing for me is would the average person in the country give 4% of their income to conservation.No of course not but would criticise farmers if they refused these proposals.Hey ho double standards there for sure.Indeed would even all conservation employees who criticise farmers give 4% of their income to conservation,have to think very doubtful.Lets be grateful for this 7% and not ridicule it as on a 1400 acre farm it means about 100 acres towards conservation which in my eyes is a great effort.Where all the problems lie is in the difficulty of paperwork for busy and lets face it without being rude not paperwork savvy working farmers who if they have to employ someone to do it then see most of grants go into other pockets.

    1. Dennis - I agree with you almost completely and I think you make very fair points. Your suggestion that 7% ecological area might be 4% loss of productivity is a very interesting proposition. I would be interested to hear from others what they think that figure might be. Of course, it would depend on the final details of what is agreed and clarification of what is proposed at the moment but your estimate for your former farm is the first figure that I have heard. And, if I remember rightly, that was dairy farm?

      For many dairy farms I would have thought, but I may be wrong, that an awful lot of the 7% could come from existing hedges and little bits of woodland but i am guessing.

      For arable farmers the 7% level is less than that for set-aside over the years where I am trying to remember whether the hedges etc would have counted or not.

      You are right that the average person would not donate 4% of their income to wildlife conservation - if only they would then the country would be very different - and maybe not in all ways better. But although it's a good point it's not necessarily a completely fair point. Would everyone in the country voluntarily give their money to farmers in Single Farm Payments? I think not. Unless they believed that farmers need the money (and some do and some don't at the moment and the money goes to both groups) or they thought that the SFPs were delivering something good - and I think that is what the Commission's proposals are aiming to do - get more environmental delivery for that generous public support to farming. Now if you say that the SFP keeps food prices down we will get into out usual friendly disagreement, but at this stage we are agreeing quite well and you have correctly realised that I think that this is not too bad a proposal for a deal although everyone would want things changed in it.

  2. Hi Mark I am so pleased that we almost completely agree and of course pleased that I seem to interpret your blog correctly.Of course my figures are only guesses but always try to be fair on such things.In general think we are making good progress with farmers coming on board for improved wildlife but in general think we have to get farmers with results and a enthusiastic attitude to encourage others.Not that I think RSPB etc do not do a really good job but farmers will copy other farmers more readily.
    Having driven 400 miles last weekend what appalled me I have to admit was seeing almost all the hedges were cut,now I know it may look as if I am defending farmers but there just has to be a simple reason why they are turning money down by cutting every 2 years and claiming ELS.The only thing I can come up with is the difficulty and amount of paperwork for the average working farmer who has to employ some expensive consultant to do it.This is perhaps the biggest bugbear of these schemes.Of course it is much easier for RSPB people trained in all forms of paperwork to do and doubt they realise the problem.

  3. Dennis suggests that farmers may lose 4% income. This is not true because what will actually happen is that the government will be gaining value for their environmental payments made as compensation for any loss of income the farmer may incur. Regarding hedgerows being cut yearly, I believe that many farmers are being given environmental payments for hedge management but are not carrying out the work in the way it should be done. I think that any environmental payments to farmers should be given after the work or environmental benefits have been produced.

    As far as capping environmental payments to a limit of 300,000 euros, I believe this to be a ridiculously high amount. It is almost approaching the farcical situation of banker's bonuses, but this time the money is coming directly from public funds.

    As the right to roam legislation in Scotland has allowed the general public to have a right to enjoy farmland, I believe this should be taken a step further through all of the UK with an extra component of the public being allowed to demand that some of this land be managed for both wildlife and their enjoyment. The general public, if they are financing environmental payments to farmers should have some return for this investment in the form of recreation facilities.

    What should also be considered during this economic crisis is whether we should be giving farmers any payments at all ? After all they are doing very well thankyou with rapidly increasing food prices pushing up their farm incomes while many of the population are struggling financially.

    1. I also should have said that what would be great would be if there were a charitable organisation buying up farms and managing them in a manner where wildlife comes first. Something like the RSPB Hope Farm but maybe with a larger wildlife and ecological habitat component. Government environmental payments could go to such an organisation instead of to those farmers who do not use their environmental payments in an efficient manner regarding wildlife benefits.

  4. When you say that CAP-reform is the equivalent of the 'fairness' of C&C, it's not clear to me whether that is considered as a 'good thing' or a 'bad thing' . . . .

    Please could you clarify?

    C&C has a lot of support because it is perceived as 'fair': -

    However, the relevance of C&C is primarily a function of being 'rational' [where the alternative e.g. Kyoto Protocol] has been picking number out of a hat . . . .

    1. Aubrey - welcome! Generally a good thing was what I meant because there is no real fairness in how the money is allocated across farmers in different countries so some evening out of the money within a pool means taking from the rich(er) and giving to the poor(er).

  5. 'The most profitable 10% of arable farmers only crop 90% of their land'. So an arable farmer recently said to a colleague of mine. A big generalisation I know, but it illustrates the point that not all arable land can be cropped profitably and might be better used to deliver other important things (pollination, protecting water quality, biodiversity etc).

    1. Richard - welcome and that's a very interesting comment. Of course if it's generally true, then the proposals of the Commission are good news for wildlife and not at all bad news for arable farmers. Very interesting, thank you again.


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