New CAP must go to 'active' farmers
The closing date for the consultation process on Direct Payments Regulation is this Friday – September 20. This is the last opportunity we will have to ensure that underutilised land is brought into production by farmers who wish to draw down Single Farm Payment (SFP). This scope lies with the definition of 'active farmer', which still has to be finalised.
The problem of productive land not being utilised for production is being brought to my attention on a daily basis by farmers who want to secure more land in order to expand or maintain their present land area.
As recently as yesterday I had a tillage farmer, who is about to lose 60ac of conacre, telling me about a 150ac farm, on which there has been no stock this year. The owner is drawing down a SFP, which he is entitled to do, under current and proposed schemes as he is topping it – keeping it under Good Agricultural and Environment Condition (GAEC). He is not prepared to rent it out or enter any form of agreement which would allow someone else to farm it. A dairy farmer told me of an adjoining 70ac farm of top quality land with 20 weanlings "running over it". Is that what we call "freedom to farm"?
Can we justify farmers who are not utilising their lands continuing to receive a SFP and possibly an increased payment under the new system? Social welfare payments have all too often been regarded as a disincentive to work. Is SFP to be allowed to deteriorate into a similar system?
One of the justifications for the revision of the current SFP scheme is the inequality of some farmers receiving high payments as a result of what they produced in the early 2000s while others get very little.
The reform proposal will in fact do little if anything to correct the situation. The continued inequality is best demonstrated by looking at the impact of the revised payment scheme on two farmers both stocked at 2LU/ha in the base years and drawing identical payments.
If one of them is still stocked at 2LU/ha and the other has gone back to farming to the minimum standard – topping grass and taking no production – both will get identical payments under the 'new' system.
The farmer producing stock will have to meet a whole raft of regulations and restrictions and compete with food produced across the world to different, and at times lesser, standards. In contrast, the other 'farmer' has no such worries.