Images of butter mountains and wine lakes spring to mind as the EU launches the latest proposals for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Now there is a phrase that will sink most of us into gloom at a rapid rate. But actually, it’s not that bad nowadays. No really, it isn’t!
The food shortages and starvation experienced across Europe after the second World War was one of the major reasons for the formation of the Common Agricultural Policy but over the years it has become quite a complex behemoth. Current aims for the CAP are to provide food security, to reduce the environmental impacts of farming and to maintain the social and community relationships that maintain a thriving rural economy and landscape. The current support to recipients is differentiated into a flat rate payment – the Single Farm Payment – paid to all if they abide by some standard conditions, and the Rural Development Programme – an optional series of payments available to farmers who wish to undertake specific farming practices.
There are three options for reform:
- The ‘do almost nothing’ option – maintain things as they are
- The ‘green the existing’ option – extend the rules and add more enhancements to undertake more environmental options
- And the ‘radical’ option – remove all direct payments and only pay for environmental enhancements
The CAP still takes up 41% of all EU money – but 50% of all EU land (in the UK that is 70%) is farmed. The sort of production support that resulted in over-production of food is a thing of the past. One of the key concerns of the present reform is the threat of food shortages in the EU and rising world prices for commodities. Whatever option is chosen it is unlikely there will be an increased budget. Newer Member States (those that joined the EU in 2007) have been receiving far less money that the original group of countries and want to see this balance redressed. The UK will see a decrease in available funding.
And what does this have to do with the Woodland Trust? We have been actively lobbying for CAP reform for many years and we don’t think it has gone far enough. We aim to see a doubling of native tree and woodland cover, however tree planting across the UK is still declining. If 70% of the UK is farmland then getting the right schemes – ones that will support tree planting and not penalise those farmers who chose to have trees on their land – is vitally important.
MEPs will be debating this in the European Parliament soon – the main public consultation took place earlier this year but if you have strong views on CAP reform you can still contact you MEP – find them at this link: http://www.writetothem.com. This is not a quick process with many stages to progress through and loads of people to have a say on what should be the future of European farming. The new structures are supposed to roll out in 2014. We will shortly produce a briefing from the Woodland Trust, which will be available to read on the Agriculture section of our website.