Richard Hackett - 'Automatic CAP payments need to cease; they don't add up any more'
With the winter sowing season now well and truly behind us, thoughts at this time of year move to more long-term issues.
Perhaps one of the biggest issues is the upcoming change to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In the early 1990s when the CAP moved from market-based supports to directly supporting farmers, the big fear was that direct support of producers was a doomed concept.
The citizens of the then EEC would baulk at the idea of paying a sector of society for essentially carrying out their work. Twenty-five years on and broadly speaking, this has not materialised.
Citizens of the EU view the investment they make in agricultural supports as being value for money. In the medium term at least, payments from the CAP are secure.
In many ways that's the bad news. The reason for this is that the move to direct producer supports has had more insidious unintentional effects that will have to be faced down at some stage.
Far too many of the problems that agriculture faces are rooted in the area-based payment system. Issues such as land abandonment, scrub encroachment, declining soil fertility, blocked drainage systems, and the proliferation of rushes, are obvious results of the move to minimum agricultural activity.
The low viability of suckler cow enterprises, the huge numbers of people in their 70s, 80s and 90s still calling themselves farmers, and the low level of young people taking up farming as a career, all demonstrate a system that is based on a 'what we have we hold' approach.
Dig a little further and farm safety and farmer wellbeing are also casualties of a system that has fossilised farm structures that are unable to invest or to manoeuvre themselves to face the needs of a more modern society.