New CAP must deliver on food quality and quantity

PJ Phelan

PJ Phelan

The current round of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) is due to expire in 2019 but is likely to be rolled over into 2020, 2021 or perhaps 2022 before a new programme is put into place.

Lots of decisions will have to be made at both EU and national government levels before the new schemes will be finalised.

Decisions will have to be made as to how the CAP budget can best deliver on its objectives and provide "value for money".

Put simply the CAP budget must ensure an adequate supply of affordable quality food for Europe without doing damage to human, animal or environmental health.

To do that EU regulators have produced a vast array of requirements which farmers must achieve. Some of those "subsidiary requirements" have now assumed equal if not greater importance than the primary objective of producing safe and quality food. Tweaking the existing Basic Payment Scheme will not deliver.

We need innovative proposals to achieve the primary objective, but innovative proposals are readily stopped by regulators with an intimate knowledge of EU law.

The current BPS is based on historic production levels by individual farmers (entitlement/ha farmed), is not linked to current production, and makes no differential between environmentally efficient and less efficient farmers.

It did introduce convergence which reduced the higher payment rates/ha to some farmers and increased the rates per ha to farmers on lower payment rates/ha.

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Just as the concept of equal pay for all workers failed in communist countries, payment of a similar rate for every eligible ha in European countries will do nothing to achieve the primary objective of quality food.

We have ended up with an aging farmer population with no incentive for them to make room for younger, and perhaps not so young, progressive farmers.

Land purchase, rental and lease prices have all increased and the real winner has been the land owner not the actual primary producer.

I have yet to find an EU Directive requiring that landowners must be paid for ownership.

There is apparently a proposal to increase convergence from the current 65pc to 75pc thereby bringing the payment rate per ha closer to the national average payment.

This is not an action that will deliver on the primary CAP objectives and in my opinion will incentivise land owners to stay "farming" at the expense of farmers who want to farm and produce.

The BPS also introduced greening, requiring the larger tillage farmers to have a minimum of three crops.

I still don't know what it achieved apart from denying farmers the opportunity to sow crops in accordance with soil, climate and market opportunities.

Currently there are discussions on removing greening and replacing it with a requirement for good crop rotations and on replacing our ecological focus areas with an equivalent or perhaps greater area of land which is not to be farmed- a sort of set-aside?

It may well form a new sport for regulators and map drawers and will certainly bring new terminology.

My proposals are:

* The concept of an entitlement should be discarded;

* The new CAP scheme should provide an adequate income to incentivise farmers to produce an adequate supply of affordable quality food with minimal adverse environmental impacts;

* Payment rate should be based on the quantity and quality of food produced;

* Payment rates should be linked to environment emissions per tonne of food produced. Such data might be provided from taxation accounts the recording for which might be adjusted to include weights/volumes of all produce sold and itemisation provided for quantities of fertiliser, pesticide, energy and fuels utilised;

* Efficiency in mechanisation utilisation should be incentivised in areas such as new technologies, appropriate machine sizes and share farming;

* Environmental emissions from the farm should be offset where renewable energy projects are implemented;

* All inputs used by farmers to produce must meet EU quality standards;

Farmers who operate in SACs, SPAs and perhaps disadvantaged areas should be given the option of getting involved in a "Results Based Programme", such as Burren Life or The Hen Harrier Programme whereby they would be paid for achieving specific environmental targets;

Provide a retirement scheme for all farmers. That scheme might consist of a minimum payment per farmer who retires and perhaps be topped up in accordance with previous entitlements on the farm.

Farmers who retire should either sell or lease out their farms to a farmer who will produce quality food. Income from sales/lease should be tax free. Transfers to family members should be allowed provided that new farmer carries out a progressive agricultural development programme on the holding.

PJ Phelan is a tillage advisor based in Tipperary and is a member of the ACA and ITCA

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