EU farming policy ‘should be greener’

CALLS for the Common Agricultural Policy to be changed to reflect the importance of protecting the environment have been welcomed by East Anglian landowners.

Speaking at a conference in Brussels last week, European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik mooted the idea of a “Common Agricultural and Environmental Policy” as he outlined his ideas for a viable agriculture of the future.

His stance was supported by the Country Land and Business Association’s eastern region director Nicola Currie, who said a joined up policy which tackled both food and environmental security with equal weight using the same money in a different way was “exactly what the CLA has been calling for”.

Mr Potocnik pointed out that farmers manage nearly half of the EU’s land area and therefore farming had a “big influence” on Europe’s landscapes and the quality of its environment.

“If we can achieve a very significant and profound ‘greening’ of the CAP – not the greenwash we know will get us nowhere – we can also get the stronger public support we need for continuing the high level of CAP financing,” he said.

“Historically, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy - the CAP - as the main tool to support EU agriculture, has supported the rapid modernisation of farming and intensification of production.

“It is also responding to these modern needs and pressures in a variety of ways, by promoting competitiveness in agriculture, ensuring secure food supplies, preserving the environment and the countryside while supporting viable, living rural areas.”

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He added: “In Europe today, we can observe both negative and positive impacts of agriculture on the environment. Intensive agriculture can contaminate water and soil, damage biodiversity, while more traditional or extensive farming systems generally bring benefits to biodiversity, landscape, soil and water.”

The CAP had been adapted extensively to reflect growing awareness of environmental issues, but there was still “major room for improvement”, he said.

“This is even more the case if you consider that environmental issues such as water, soil and biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation are recognized as key tasks for land use,” he said.

CAP had been “significantly modernised” over the last 50 years and the worst environmental problems caused by it removed, he said. But funds for rural development represented only a small part of the CAP budget, and its share needed to be increased.

“The way I see it - but this all is still open for discussion - it seems reasonable that the future CAP will continue to support viable farming by some sort of area based payments,” he said. “But looking from an environmental point of view, instead of using the historical model of payments, I personally would rather think of flatter area payments, which are genuinely decoupled from production.”Mrs Currie welcomed his call for a change in emphasis from the CAP, and said the CLA had been arguing for three years that the principal objectives of CAP reform must be to promote both food production and a high-quality environment.

“We all know that there is pressure to cut the CAP both because of the economic situation and to redistribute its support towards the new member states who want a larger share of the budget. The CLA believes that a strong argument can be made to retain the budget provided it is seen both to ensure that the productive capacity of agriculture is maintained and that it helps protect delivery of the environmental services already carried out by farmers but for which the market does not pay.’

“It was therefore reassuring to hear the Environment Commissioner saying that the full budget needs to be maintained but that it should be redirected to provide what he called a Common Agricultural and Environmental Policy. One that not only ensures we can continue to feed an expanding world population but also protects our soils, water and ecosystems.”

Brian Finnerty, East Anglian spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said it was still consulting with members as it shapes its CAP policy. “Certainly, our view is that really the focus of CAP after 2013 needs to be about sustaining productive capacity so that our farmers can respond to the major food security challenges that are ahead of us. We accept that the protection of the environment is part of the CAP.”