One of the most annoying aspects of climbing mountains is finding, as you scramble over what you hope is the final ridge, there is yet another crest to be conquered.
The same feeling comes over me whenever I think I have mastered all the minutiae of the latest Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). I consider I have conquered the basic concepts along with loads of details and think I could easily put “understanding the CAP” as my specialist subject in Mastermind.
But then I attend one of the many meetings now being held around the country and I find that there is another mountain of complexity and downright absurdity still to be conquered.
I find the only way of understanding the CAP is to put aside all previously gained knowledge apart that is from the few certainties of farming life such as sheep dying without explanation, farm gates never being wide enough, farm buildings being never big enough and a hammer and some baler twine being able to sort most problems.
The constants in life which now have to be disregarded in understanding the CAP relate to such basics as the English language. The most common example of this is when this latest edition of CAP is described as “simplified”. Simplification was one of the main aims of Commissioner Ciolos when he introduced his version of the CAP but he did not reckon on MEPs, agricultural ministers and civil servants from across the EU ensuring that it will be the most complex piece of legislation to come out of Brussels and that is some achievement. Other examples of English no longer holding the original meaning in the new CAP come with “fallow ground” which everyone used to understand as land without a crop on it. Now, it seems fallow can be considered a crop.
Now, do not get carried away with thinking that everything must therefore be a crop, as a catch crop of say mustard or stubble turnips is not considered to be a crop.
Another former constant in life used to be mathematics which was always quite definitive. However, after the first of January with the introduction of the next CAP, no longer will an acre by an acre. One example of the change will be that, if it is part of a buffer strip, it will, in Brussels’ eyes, be an acre and a half. It will expand in similar fashion and to a similar extent if it is part of the edge of a field or stream running alongside an arable crop even although the crop itself will remain its original size.
In case you are worrying about all this expansion, the new flexible CAP acre can also shrink to one-third of its size if you happen to sow a crop of peas or beans on it. Likewise, growing a crop of stubble turnips can cut an acre down to less than one third of what it has traditionally been.
In another example of this new-found flexibility in area, if the land is in the more remote regions of the country, it can, in official eyes, either expand or contract with a leeway of ten per cent either way. It is important to point out at his juncture that the reduced size of a crop of peas or a catch crop is a bad thing while the flexible area in the Highlands is a good thing.
Yet another part of life which the CAP has tampered with is time. You might think this is impossible but, if I understand it correctly, while the implementation is a year behind schedule, the budget cuts will come winging in on time. It is all flexible, you see.
Thankfully, there is a core of CAP experts going around Scotland to explain all of this nonsense. But it is really concerning that every one of those experts has to constantly resort to phrases such as “this has still to be decided” or “this is how it looks at present” or “this is likely to change.”
Did I refer to climbing the final ridge earlier and seeing a minor hillock still to be surmounted?
Maybe better to say we still have some considerable amount of climbing to do and, even when completed, there is likely to be a number of casualties falling off this particular CAP mountain.
Commissioner Hogan, please make the CAP simpler and when I say simpler, that is in its original meaning.