What a year 2012 was in agriculture policy – dynamic, innovative, outcome focused…
Sorry, I have frequently been told that sarcasm is not a flattering attribute but it is either that or rolling on the floor, screaming in frustration!
In previous years I have written about the launch of the discussion documents and then the launch of the proposals, but yet another year has passed and nothing appears to have changed. We are still discussing the same things we were this time last year – what should count towards a “greening” payment, should there be a top limit to the amount of money an individual farm business can receive, how to make sure the money goes to farmers rather than absentee landowners?
CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) reform now works on a seven year time schedule. The proposals being discussed will govern farming policy for the years 2014 to the end of 2020, but we are already 6 to 9 months behind the original schedule and not a single decision has been made. There are loads of reasons for this delay, for example this is the first reform where the European Parliament has had co-decision responsibilities. By the end of the of the summer recess several thousand amendments had been tabled by Members of the European Parliament, trying to coalesce this into a series of motions upon which votes can be held is obviously taking time.
Despite all this there could have been many decisions made before now. The biggest barrier to progress has been the state of finances in Europe and thus the discussions about, and lack of decision making about, the future of the EU budget. There have been a number of commentaries on the potential impact of the budget discussions on the future of agriculture and the environment, e.g. this piece by Mike Clarke of the RSPB or George Monbiot in the Guardian, but from a landowners point of view in the UK the only result that they can see is yet more delays.
The next EU budget discussion will be end of January or February. The European Parliament will continue discussions about the various measures in CAP reform throughout the first half of 2013. Once a decision has been made on CAP reform the individual countries then have to start discussions about Rural Development Plans with the EU – this can take up to a year before agreement is reached. All agri-environment funding for new schemes comes to an end at the end of 2013.
Forestry in the UK is a very small part of decision making; only 4% of rural development spending goes to forestry, which is itself less than 20% of overall CAP spending within the UK. Yet until there is a final decision there will be few if any trees planted or woods brought into management in the near future.
Trying to influence agriculture policy is like trying to change the direction of an ocean going liner – you either go with the flow and treat each minor shift as a positive message for the future or despair and change jobs quickly. I am still trying!
Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Officer