England: NFU chief to ‘hold Government to its word’ on CAP reform

National Famers' Union president Peter Kendall.

National Famers' Union president Peter Kendall.

A consultation launched by the Government on how the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy should be applied in England has been described by the leader of the National Farmers’ Union as “a critical step forward”.

New EU rules set a framework for how CAP funding may be spent but the UK has secured an agreement that each country within the UK may makeits own choices on how the policy is implemented from 2015.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is now seeking views on how the CAP should be applied in England, with an emphasis on the environment and growing the rural economy.

Farming Minister George Eustice said: “Defra is inviting input into the design of a straightforward system that is effective, easy to follow and avoids the significant fines charged to UK taxpayers under the current Common Agricultural Policy.

“The consultation responses will also shape the future of the Common Agricultural Policy in England, particularly with regard to transferring up to 15% from the budget for payments made directly to farmers to payments to improve the environment and projects to improve farm competitiveness and boost economic growth.

“This is subject to evidence from the consultation that additional funding in these areas would prove value for money.”

The transfer of funding from direct payments to farmers (known as Pillar 1 of the CAP) to environemntal and economic development initiatives (Pillar 2) is likel to prove controversial within the agricultural community, with farm incomes having fallen by nearly a third last year.

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NFU president Peter Kendall said: “Over the past two years the future CAP debate has dragged on at the European level, but this announcement is a critical step forward in how that policy will be applied here in England.

“We have consulted widely with NFU members over the past year to hear directly how they want to see the new policy implemented. It is clear that nobody is happy with this round of CAP reform. There are unnecessary complications and financial pain ahead but it’s in everyone’s interest to try to find workable solutions to those issues.

“On the back of a horrific farming year in 2012, confirmation that farm business income is down 32% underlines the importance of the CAP to farm businesses. Many elements of this’s consultation will directly impact on farm businesses and their bottom line in the future.”

The consultation invites responses on how the CAP can best benefit wildlife and improve natural landscapes. Among Defra’s proposals is the creation of a new new environmental land management scheme to replace existing environmental stewardship schemes and also cover forestry.

Mr Kendall added: “We will study the consultation and accompanying impact assessment closely, but I am sure that a key element of concerns for my members will be the comments that transferring the maximum amount of money from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 is the right thing to do.

“I have repeatedly stated that English farmers are already significantly disadvantaged in comparison with their near neighbours in the EU. I will hold the Government to its word that they will only modulate the maximum 15% if it can demonstrate it would deliver worthwhile and valuable outcomes for farming and society.”