Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Will flexibility underline common policy approach?

Will the amount of flexibility allowed in the latest CAP reform package undermine the common policy approach and create an uneven playing field in the European Union in terms of competitiveness? This is the question posed in an informative House of Commons Library briefing paper: Flexibility

The UK and Ireland have made full use of the flexibility allowed around eighty decision points to create bespoke policies, the paper finds.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Phil Hogan approved as commissioner

Phil Hogan has been approved as agriculture commissioner by a majority of over three to one in the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. He was asked some awkward questions about his career in Irish politics, as well as some standard agricultural questions, but did not encounter the level of difficulty experienced by some candidates for commissioner roles: Phil Hogan

He said that he would review the CAP in 2016 after one year of the new policy mix with particular reference to direct payments and the arrangements on greening and ecological focus. However, he said that his immediate priority was responding to the Russian ban on the import of EU agricultural products.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Greening of CAP has been a failure

Researchers have suggested that the 'greening' of the CAP has been a failure. The latest version of the CAP is no greener than its predecessor and would fail a basic Advertising Standards Authority test in terms of its claims: No greening

The researchers conclude that it fails to encourage greater wildlife abundance or adequate protection for vulnerable habitats such as grasslands.

I would not wish to dispute the specific conclusions made. Policy instruments have often not been well designed and policy effectiveness insufficiently monitored. The sums of money available do not match the scale of the challenge, but have often not been well used.

However, one must beware of reducing environmental policy to the protection of biodiversity or landscape effects. Reducing water pollution from agricultural activities has been a key policy objective and some progress has been made. Climate change mitigation is surely the key objective, but little progress has been made, despite the contribution of modern agriculture to greenhouse gases.

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

The rise in farmland prices

Over the past decade farmland prices have grown at twice the rate of prime London property with good agricultural land increasing 270 per cent in value compared with a 135 per cent rise in London house prices during that time according to Savills. This makes it three times the price of farmland in North America and 15 times the price of such land in Australia, reports The Economist.

The reasons cited include limited and diminishing supply and constraints on world food supply. However, it should be pointed out that a lot of land in reach in London is bought at least in part as sporting estates which offer the additional incentives of a safe haven for money and tax breaks, such as exemption from inheritance tax after seven years.

However, of course, a lot of the demand is driven by farmers themselves. Economies of scale demand bigger units and although land can be rented, this may not offer security of tenure and often results in a patchwork quilt of land which means that time and money is taken up moving equipment around, not to mention complaints about slow moving agricultural vehicles on the roads.

What this means is that it is now very difficult to get into farming on your account unless you inherit a farm or a large pot of money. This has been exacerbated by the decline of county council entry level smallholdings. This means that farming is deprived of people who might bring in a fresh perspective and innovative ideas.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Farm commissioner job goes to Ireland

With outgoing agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos not re-nominated by Romania, the role has gone to Ireland's Phil Hogan. As this report makes clear, it is a decision likely to be welcomed by farmers: Hogan

The Irish Farmers' Association have certainly welcomed the appointment, implying that it will offer new opportunities for them to exert influence and secure better deals for farmers: Irish welcome

This report suggests that he has been none too popular in his role as environment minister in Ireland, although it does describe Brussels rather colourfully as a 'dross magnet': Ministerial record

The farm commissioner role often goes to a small member state with strong agricultural interests and it has, of course, been occupied by Ireland before, most notably by Ray MacSharry who brought about a significant reform of the CAP with long-lasting effects.

This article makes the interesting point that Ciolos failed to make sufficient progress on the integration of agricultural and environmental policy which is a clear direction of travel. It also notes that a central flaw of the CAP is the fragmented nature of the management and control systems: Environmental policy

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Agricultural policy outside the EU

There has been relatively little discussion so far of what kind of agricultural policy the UK might have if it left the EU and hence the CAP. Agricultural economist and CAP expert Alan Swinbank has been trying to stimulate debate on this issue, but so far with little success. His latest effort is in the journal EuroChoices.

He notes, 'Successive British governments have repeatedly argued for more radical reform of the CAP than the EU has been willing to accept ... To what extent these aspirations would translate into a reduction of support for British farmers, and a greater emphasis on the provision of environmental public goods, should the UK exit the EU is open to question ... British farmers might bitterly complain that they faced an uneven playing field as their competitors were better able to remain in business as a result of more generous Pillar 1 payments subsidising their farming activities.'

Swinbank also poses the question: 'Could a WTO compatible agri-food trade agreements be negotiated with its former EU partners, or would Irish and Brazilian beef face the same tariff barriers on imports into the British market?'

My initial thinking has been that the single farm (soon to be basic) payment should continue during a transitional period if the UK left the EU, but at a somewhat reduced percentage of the current rate, e.g., 90 per cent, 85 per cent, 80 per cent over three years. However, there is danger that this could become set in stone and we would be left with an historically determined form of subsidy rather than debating and re-thinking the pattern of support.

As Swinbank argues, the alternatives do need to be spelt out so that voters can make an informed choice in any referendum.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How the EU is handling Russia's food import ban

I have written on this subject here: Food Import Ban