After the referendum result a number of banners appeared at demonstrations stating “I love the EU”. The question I want to pose is if one loves the EU, does one love the Common Agricultural Policy or CAP? Because you can’t have one without the other.
The CAP has been around for a long time, since 1962, and I have never been a fan. In the forty years in which the UK has been a member of the EU, many attempts have been made to reform it – with little success. The criticisms are many – the impact on developing countries, the environmental impacts and particularly that it provides large payments to large farmers. In spending time in the country this summer I have heard a number of stories of farmers banking cheques for over a million pounds from the EU. This is inevitable where there is a flat rate per acre with no tapering of subsidies.
The introduction of the three crop rule in 2015 has hit smaller farmers. The rule provides that to qualify for support payments if you farm more than 30 hectares (74.13 acres) of arable land, You must grow:
At least 3 different crops on your arable land.
Your largest crop must not cover more than 75% of your arable land.
The two largest crops together must not cover more than 95% of your arable land.
For a small farmer this provides the problem of which third crop to grow and whether this will make any money given the size of the crop.
According to the European Commission blog, “The reforms address environmental concerns related to pressures that modern farming has put on water, soil, farmland habitats and related biodiversity, as well as contributing to tackling climate change. “
This may be their aim but the outcome is that in many cases the third crop is thrown away or ploughed back in. Together with the non use of vegetables because they do not meet regulation size and shape this questions the basis of this policy. In leaving the CAP, the UK will have the opportunity to redesign farm payments to stop this.
In addition the question of plant health needs to be addressed.I have already written about trees, but this issue applies more widely to plant health.
The Royal Horticultural Society describe it thus:
“Within the European Union (EU) there are no border checks for plants and plant products travelling between member states and, it is possible, to import and export plants freely with very few exceptions.”
Leaving the CAP provides the UK with a number of policy opportunities for the government to design a new system.
A farm payment system which provides greater support for smaller farm units and reduces payments to larger farmers.
A system that doesn’t mean that crops are ploughed back into the earth and removes the three crop requirement.
Support for local food production through a review of reduced electricity rates for Glasshouse producers.
A system which addresses the environmental aspects of husbanding the land while maximising food production. Which looks at the potential risks and benefits of a changing climate for agriculture.
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