There was almost an audible sigh of relief in Brussels yesterday as the European Parliament’s agricultural committee agreed the next common agricultural policy (CAP) after a week of intensive negotiations, which followed two years of talks and some 8,000 amendments to the original proposals.
The end result, according to Simon Coveney, the Irish chair of the European Union’s Agricultural Council and the man who drove the agenda over the past six months, was a “balanced and progressive CAP that is fit for growth of food production in the future along with a move towards the marketplace”.
And Dacian Ciolos, the EU agricultural commissioner, who put down the original reform paper, stressed how important the environmental policies would be in the new CAP, which will run from 2014 to 2020
“We have produced policies which will drive all farmers towards more sustainable practices,” he said, adding that there was a penalty stick of 30 per cent of all support being dependent on compliance.
Ciolos was also pleased that positive support for the next generation of farmers would form an integral part of the forthcoming CAP while another plank is the exclusion list so that those not actively farming can be excluded from the payment of subsidies.
The main exclusion list will be made in Brussels but member states and regions of member states can add categories of those they do not want supported.
This aspect of the deal was welcomed by Scottish Government rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead, as it would remove so called slipper farmers.
The deal for young farmers was also strengthened at the last minute by an intervention by UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson, who pressed for an additional percentage.
However, Paterson and Lochhead differed on the decision to couple support, with Paterson stating it was a step backwards away from the market place while his Scottish counterpart called it the biggest disappointment, with Scotland on the lower tier of support.
“The importance of coupled payments to Scotland’s farmers being consistently overlooked by the Secretary of State was a huge frustration and one which will cost our industry dearly,” said Lochhead.
While widely touted as a done deal, it will be September before the CAP is signed off by the parliament and several major items linked to the EU budget had been taken off the agenda by the Council of Ministers.
Despite that, the focus on the next CAP now moves to member states and George Lyon MEP, one of the European Parliament negotiators during discussions in Brussels, warned Scottish ministers that farmers cannot be “left in the dark” over how the new CAP will be applied in Scotland.
“Scottish farmers will want to know as soon as possible what the new Scottish CAP looks like to give them the maximum time to plan ahead,” he said. “Ministers in Edinburgh now need to work to ensure that farmers are not left in the dark over what this deal will mean for their businesses.”
However, even before these UK talks begin, the English NFU rejected calls from the Scottish Government to redistribute UK CAP funds north of the Border.
After a unanimous vote at the NFU Council that rejected the Scottish Government’s demands, NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said: “The CAP budget for the UK has been cut. This means that there will be less money available. It beggars belief that the SNP think that somehow Scotland should be exempt from those cuts.
“As farming organisations representing the interests of active farmers, we believe that the purpose of direct payments is to maintain agricultural capacity and underpin farm business resilience, not to be spread thinly across millions and millions of hectares of unproductive land.”
NFU Scotland president, Nigel Miller said that in many respects, the real work started now.
“We need to quickly digest the whole package and identify the measures that will best deliver for Scottish farming and our associated industries between 2015 and 2020,” he said.
“In the past few days, a lot more flexibility has been built into the proposals. The ‘Irish tunnel’ model of partially converging payments in a region to address redistribution concerns is now an option and may be of value to existing scheme recipients in Scotland.”
And while Coveney left the parliament yesterday with warm words for his efforts in producing the next CAP, he will receive a cooler welcome on his return to Dublin.
Irish Farmers Association president John Bryan worried that tens of thousands of family farms would lose under the “flawed” reform. “50,000 of our most productive farmers will lose between 15 per cent and 35 per cent of their payment which will have a serious impact on farm incomes,” he said.