Agriculture Policy 2012 – a year of standing still

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! 

Arable field next to woodlandIn 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

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About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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8 Responses to Agriculture Policy 2012 – a year of standing still

  1. Pingback: CAP reform version 365… | Woodland Matters

  2. R.W. Ashford says:

    As far as I can see, the C(r)AP was, and still is, a political wheeze to keep inefficient French farmers out of the cities where they would be an unemployable nuisance. When UK joined the EEC (now rebranded as EU) the suggestion that small farmers should be favoured would have meant we would get only a small amount of cash back so, at our (UK’s) insistence, big farmers get almost the lot which, of course, is in line with our medieval land tenure system, under which we are in thrall to big landowners. When I last checked, a few years ago, the biggest UK CAP beneficiary was Tate & Lyle!!

    To expect any common sense out of such a maniacal scheme as the CAP is pie in the sky. Those of us with environmental interests must learn to live independently of these idiots.
    Dick Ashford

  3. Kay Haw says:

    Thank you for your comment, some interesting points raised.

    • ted green says:

      When is somebody going to point out that most arable farmers do not produce food.Their production is animal food which now includes biofuel–both must be amongst the most idiotic and inefficent practicses carried out in the 21st centuary by educated man.Both too are perhaps the major contributers to our floods—which in future please please say FLOOD MUD and not flood water—this is the nations soil going down to the sea–the soil our nation will really need as the price rises for imported foods in the not too distant future. Water which perculates out of treed areas slowly is clear–never Flood Mud Ted Green.

  4. Roderick Leslie says:

    What is interesting as we come up to the Government’s response to the Independent Panel is that headline agricultural spending – especially Single Farm Payment is one area of Government spending that has, very quietly, escaped even the suggestion of cuts. That it is EU co-funded is only part of the story – even where funding is entirely domestic there is an assumption it will continue – for example, as Ministers threaten that Btb could cost £1 billion if we don’t kill Badgers there is never any suggestion we might decide not to spend the money, or impose the 25% cut on compensation to match the cut to environmental bodies like NE & FC. We need to remember this if Defra tries to further cut forestry – both FC spending and the grants budget so important to the Woodland Trust’s new woodland developments. It is not because simply about affordability – it is about choice, and Ministers will need to be ready to explain why their choices are always in favour of agriculture and not trees, countryside access or nature.

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