Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The GM debate

This continues to rage on with entrenched positions being taken on either side. However, this interesting post argues that we shouldn't treat all GMOs alike and that we now have a good enough knowledge base to make informed judgments: GMOs

Saturday, May 18, 2013

UKIP and the CAP

It is perhaps not surprising to learn that their agricultural policy is not particularly coherent and they are clearer about what they are against than what they would replace it with, but here is an interesting account of their policy stance on agricultural matters: UKIP

Friday, May 17, 2013

CAP reform deal not yet sewn up

This week’s Farm Council meeting highlighted more of the divisions that remain on the CAP reform process than many observers, not least the EU Farm Commissioner and Irish Presidency, would have liked, reports Agra Europe. This meeting was significant in that it was the last opportunity for an agreement between EU agriculture ministers prior to what many are billing as the ‘final showdown’ talks at the Luxembourg Farm Council on June 24-25.

The three big points of discussion were over the nature and scope of the new support systems for ‘young’ and ‘small’ farmers under the next CAP, as well as whether or not an ‘active farmer’ provision – aimed at excluding ‘undeserving’ recipients from receiving subsidies through an EU-wide ‘negative’ list that countries could add to – should be mandatory across member states.

The issue of whether young farmers should be given a 'leg up' has proved controversial for the UK. As for undeserving recipients, subsidy transfer arrangements represent a second best solution offering reallocation in an inherently unsatisfactory system in my view. Interestingly, despite the Presidency testing the water for potential compromise agreements on these issues, many governments were steadfast in their opposition in making the first two schemes compulsory to top-up direct payments, while there was also much disagreement over the third provision.

Simon Coveney, the Irish agriculture minister chairing the member state government talks, came away from the Council stating that he was 'reasonably positive' that compromises on the three proposals can be reached with MEPs and the Commission by the end of next month. Commissioner Dacian Ciolos was also confident of a political agreement but at the same time he reiterated his frustration at the reluctance of several ministers to accept a 'common' and compulsory approach for the targeted schemes.

UK farm minister Owen Paterson, who is engaged in his own battle to defend the Defra budget, also said he was optimistic of a deal this week, but there have been whispers that an agreement may not be as cut and dry as is hoped, with measures such as ‘greening’ likely to be major stumbling blocks. Scottish Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon even suggested that the Irish Presidency may be given additional time to try and get a deal in July.

Although Lithuania will have taken over the EU Presidency for the first time in their history by that time of year, the view is that the Irish will be best-placed to secure an actual CAP reform agreement due to being relatively more experienced in such matters.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Farmers and the EU

Yesterday I spent a very interesting day in Yorkshire talking with a cross-section of farmers. As always, it was good to hear of the ingenuity that farmers deploy in diversification such as an upland sheep farmer who was producing honey using the summer heather crop, a bit hit with consumers. Another interesting point to come out of the discussion was that many farmers, perhaps egged on by banks, had gone for increasing the area of their farms and had not thought enough about how they could improve productivity on existing land, e.g., by grassland improvement which could yield gains of 50 to 100 per cent.

Many different topics came up, the availability of plant protection products being a particular concern, but among other things we discussed Britain's membership of the EU. There was concern about EU regulations, particularly from the poultry sector, in terms of whether they prevented British farmers from enjoying a level playing field in terms of competition.

When I said 'many' farmers could not survive without the single farm payment, I was corrected by the word 'all'. If this is the case, it is worrying in terms of the viability of British farming. But I accept that the availability of the SFP is built into business models and can make the difference between profit and loss. An arable farmer did emphasise that most farmers would prefer to earn a living from the market if they could get a fair price and this led us into a discussion of the economic power of the supermarkets.

It is quite likely that we will have a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the EU: Labour would be disadvantaged at the next general election if it was unable to offer this. It is also quite likely that the vote would be to withdraw. In terms of the single market, a lot would then depend on whether a satisfactory association agreement could be concluded with the EU. European countries have an incentive to do so given the exports they make to the UK, but the devil would be in the detail.

But what would happen to farm subsidies? It would be an opportunity to think again about what the objectives of such subsidies should be, and also to reduce them. One of the problems with EU policy has been that the objectives in the Treaty of Rome were contradictory, had no preference ordering (although one appeared in practice) and were never changed in treaty revisions (too much of a hot potato).

What could be done is to pay farmers a tapering percentage of their historic SFP, say 90 per cent in the year after exit and 80 per cent in the second year while there was a serious conversation about what sorts of subsidies were needed, for what purpose and how they could be reduced over time. Indeed, farmers could be offered a buy out of their subsidies through a bond scheme.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Greening remains big issue in CAP talks

The general feeling from last week’s Farm Council and subsequent ComAgri meeting was that there needs to be more compromise from all sides in the forthcoming trilogue talks between the European Commission, Parliament and Council if they are to get the job done at the June 24-25 Farm Council as planned, reports Agra Europe

‘Greening’ remains one of the key talking points, with environmental groups again urging decision-makers not to ‘green-wash’ the CAP earlier this week, but many MEPs are still wary of the ‘double payment’ quandary should 30% of Pillar Two direct payments be linked to these measures.

Greening itself has not yet been tackled in the trilogues, yet EU Farm Commissioner Ciolos reiterated last week that an ‘equivalence’ system must be 'credible' and 'avoid double funding'. The measures must be 'clearly defined' and constitute a 'clear baseline' for Pillar Two agri-environment schemes, he added.

In England the concern among farmers is that Pillar Two measures will be maintained at the expense of the Single Farm Payment.