New deal for Europe’s farmers must not hurt arable farmers in East Anglia, says farmers’ leader

A new deal for Europe’s farmers must be “common” and must not further discriminate against arable farmers in East Anglia, said NFU president Peter Kendall.

Already the region’s cereal growers received �40 per acre (100 euros per hectare) less than their counterparts in northern Germany, he told about 75 members of Norfolk National Farmers’ Union.

Speaking at the county annual meeting at Easton College, he said that England – alone of the four regions in Britain – had gone further and faster in moving from historic subsidy payments than almost anyone else.

“We’re already receiving 100 Euro hectare less in East Anglian than an arable farmer in Schleswig Holstein in Germany. I suspect our costs are about the same – for fertilisers, for sprays and the costs of machinery,” said Mr Kendall, who is standing for a fourth two-year term at the NFU presidential elections next February.

And, he was “profoundly worried” that Whitehall was determined to drive the “green” agenda at the expense of England’s farmers.

“Civil servants in Defra, Treasury and actually Foreign Office want as part of the government’s determination to be the greenest government to have additional greening in England if they fail to get the greening in Europe.”

“The Germans are not talking about “added greening” to their farm payments.

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It does put us at a disadvantage; we’re already below the average of Europe and receiving about 90pc of the average payment,” added Mr Kendall.

“We’re facing the same standards and rules and regulations. Working in that single market we’re already E100 per hectare worse off than the arable farmers of Schleswig Holstein. If we reduce support, let’s do it evenly if this economic crisis dictates.”

England has moved from the traditional historic farm support payments, based on 2000 and 2001 figures, towards regional payments. It has resulted in what might be termed peverse outcomes, said Mr Kendall.

“A farmer in Wales doing exactly the same thing receives three times as much money just because he is over the border,” he added.

At a seminar in Westminster last week, Defra’s chief negotiator showed a slide of Europe’s flat farm productivity. “That’s quite worrying,” said Mr Kendall. Then other slides were shown charting America’s rising productivity and also rapid increases in China and India.

“He then had the audacity to say that this was because Europe was cushioned with support. India and China have an estimated $28bn support for fertiliser and the United States spends a bigger percentage on GDP on their agricultural department,” said Mr Kendall.

“There is a view in Defra which some civil servants hold that if you remove support, we will become more productive. If we are to have less support and less budget, then it must be evenly across Europe. Let’s make sure that we’re not a New Zealand-style experiment.

Mr Kendall outlined his key goals. “We want to make sure that England is not disadvantaged. As the NFU, we are emphasising the importance of agricultural production. We think the CAP should be primarily an agricultural policy.”

He said that EU Agriculture Commissioner’s broad proposals, which essentially concentrated on “greener” policies did not seem to recognise the fundamental importance of more food production. When demand for food would be driven by predicted increase in global population to 9bn by 2040, Europe’s consumers could be better protected by more productive farming.

He hoped that the “bad bits” of the EU proposals would be “watered down.” He said that some of the commissioner’s package of ‘greener’ measures including 7pc “ecological focus areas,” active farmer test, three crops on a farm, were designed just to please the general public.

“We are trying to argue as the NFU four key principles – let’s have an agricultural policy which must be simple, more common, helps to focus on the market place and does not impact on our competitiveness.”

Mr Kendall dismissed the three-crops concept as “unhelpful.” I contract farm a block of 100 acres five miles away from my farm. Am I really going to grow five acres of beans, 25 acres of wheat, 70 acres of oilseed rape? The whole load would go into wheat one year, then rape another. That’s what I would do as an East Anglian arable farmer.”

He knew of many other examples, when he had spoken recently to farmers at Market Harborough, Leicestershire. One family farm, which had 200 acres of grass for beef and sheep and an offlying block of 100 acres of arable for growing barley. “They haven’t got storage to handle different crops and so on.”

Mr Kendall said that the thinking was that an agreement, would probably made under the Irish presidency in early 2013, and might not start until January 1, 2015.