Sunday, September 17, 2006

Co-op gets farm subsidies divi

The leading recipient of CAP direct aid in the UK in 2004 was Farmcare Ltd., the large scale farming group owned by the Co-op. It got a divi of £2.359m from CAP, down from about £2.6m in 2003. All of the top five English aid recipients were farm businesses or co-operatives, Strutt & Parker (farms) coming in second with £1.382m.

However, private landowners also feature in the list. Sir Richard Sutton's Settled Estates got £917,650.93p. Lord Rayleigh's farms got £571,808.88p. Grovesnor Farms, owned by the Duke of Westminster, reputedly one of the richest men in the UK, came 45th in the list taking £421,000.

Sugar and dairy sector companies dominated the list of non-CAP payments, accounting for all of the companies in the top ten. Sugar importers and refiners Tate and Lyle claimed a cool £125m with traders C. Cazrinkow Sugar coming in second with some £39.4m. Fairfield Foods Ireland got £18.3m while NestlĂ© had to be content with £5.16m. The agricultural division of multinational Cargill got a mere £1.478m.

The data revealed by Defra shows that farmers were paid a total of £1.4 billion in 2004/5. Non-farm payments totalled £431m, making the overall total over £1.84 billion.

More information on subsidies across the EU (at least for those countries that have released data) can be found at Jack Thurston's web page: Subsidies

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Decoupling at risk after ECJ overturns cotton reform

A ruling from the European Court of Justice that the reformed EU cotton regime introduced in 2004 must be dismantled and replaced raises wider questions about decoupling, a centrepiece of the latest round of CAP reforms.

In the cotton regime reform the Commission decoupled 65 per cent of payments but left 35 per cent coupled which they claimed would be enough to maintain cotton production in all areas of the EU where it was important for the agricultural economy (principally Spain and Greece).

Spain, however, claimed that the reform did not provide enough subsidies to ensure that cotton production remained viable. They had a special legal argument because the maintenance of cotton production is enshrined in Spain's EU accession treaty.

The Court has required the Commission to make a fresh impact assessment. The current regime can continue until a new one is place, an outcome welcomed by the Commission which also emphasised that the basic principle of decoupling had not been challenged. Nevertheless, the ruling could re-open the issue in relation to other products where partial decoupling has been retained to protect production in [politically] sensitive areas.

It could also lead to trouble in the WTO where the 'cotton club' of Burkina Faso, Chand and Mali are upset about the collapse of the Doha Round and the prospect of better access to markets. They are considering a legal challenge over subsidies to cotton producers in rich countries. Although their principal target has been te US, any talk of recoupling payments could bring the EU into the frame.

Another tricky problem for the Commission to try and unravel.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Little change in Poland's farm structure

As Poland takes steps to reassure other member states that it is a good European, news comes from Eurostat that the modernisation of farm structures is proceeding at a snail's pace. Average farm size fell very slightly between 2002 and 2005. The average farm size in Poland was now 12.1 hectares compared with 12.2 hectares in 2002.

Some 2.67 million people are still employed in Polish agriculture, although more than half of these were family members working on a part-time basis. To qualify as a farm, an enterprise has to have an annual gross margin of €1200. By this definition there are some 1,082,700 farms in Poland. 35 per cent of farms have less than 5 hectares of farmland at their disposal, while only two per cent held more than 50 hectares. However, holdings in the latter category accounted for some 26 per cent of all Polish farmland.

Around one-fifth of farmers did not own a tractor. However, despite their small size, only 5.9 per cent of holdings engaged in any other gainful activity on farm. One would think that there was more scope for rural tourism. Meanwhile, the sums received from the EU, small though they are, are vital to the survival of such holdings. Historically, some of them were worked on a part-time basis as smallholdings by industrial workers who have now often lost their jobs in heavy industries.

Obesity subsidies for farmers?

Farmers' spokespersons have been trying hard to talk up the threat to food security from terrorists as a means of justifying the continuation of agricultural subsidies. However, the problem of obesity may give them a new basis for subsidy claims.

Australia has one of the worst obesity problems in the world and a call has been made for fruit and vegetables to receive subsidies to make prices more affordable. Research has shown that if apple prices were halved, sales would treble.

How the subsidy will be paid is yet to be decided. It does give farmers an opportunity to make use of discourses about health, although clearly some producers would benefit more than others.

Cows moo with a local accent

Cows in the south-west of England are mooing with an 'oo-arr' according to farmers in the West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers Group. They believe that their own regional accent has influenced their cows' pitch and tone who have picked up the distinctive Somerset twang. Accent shifts have also been noticed in cows in Norfolk, Lancashire, the Midland and Essex, the latter presumably having an 'Estuary' moo.

John Wells, Professor of Phonetics at University College London, provided academic confirmation: 'This phenomenon is well attested in birds. You find distinct chirping accents in the same species around the country. This could also be true of cows.'

The farmers themselves believe that the quality time they spend with their cows has led to this distinctive accent. In the winter the West Country cows are wrapped up in cow coats and are played classical music to help them relax during milking.

Lloyd Green of Glastonbury explained, 'I spend a lot of time with my Freisians and they definitely moo with a Somerset drawl. I think it works the same as with dogs - the closer a farmer's bond is with the animals, the easier it is for them to pick up on the accent.'