The president of the UK’s National Farmers’ Union, Peter Kendall, challenged politicians and policymakers to: “…match the policies with the rhetoric.” Speaking on the first day of the NFU’s annual conference in Birmingham, Kendall’s audience included European agriculture commissioner Dacian Cioloş and Defra secretary of state Caroline Spelman.
Commissioner Cioloş robustly defended proposals for stricter capping and the ‘active farmer’ requirement, arguing that some large subsidies were “…publicly impossible to defend.” He insisted that direct payments based on historic reference prices were inconsistent with a forward-looking CAP.
“It is a matter of transparency and accountability,” Cioloş told his audience. “If we want these payments to continue, they have to be socially acceptable.”
Facing “strong political pressure” to cut CAP spending, he countered by saying that: “Production decisions have to be driven by markets, not by subsidies.” However, as well as bolstering the underlying competitivity of the farming sector, it must be made more sustainable and help to protect the environment.
UK secretary of state Caroline Spelman, having once worked for the NFU knew exactly what her audience wanted to hear. She delivered plenty of sound bites, many of which DEFRA subsequently relayed on Twitter.
Playing on the unpopularity of paperwork among farmers, she included the line: “We know farming isn’t about filling in form after form…” knowing that the Farm Regulation Task Force is working to migrate documents online, such as the 2013 Cross Compliance Guide. The decision will save the UK government administrative costs, but will also require farmers without broadband access to invest in satellite internet links.
Later in her speech, she addressed Cioloş, saying: “I’m realistic. Most European ministers know that the CAP budget will have to be smaller. Just look across Europe – at the economic challenges we face. The CAP must be simplified, and it must be flexible.”
Spelman expressed a clear preference for Pillar II measures: “For us it’s vital Pillar 2 funds are allocated objectively
criteria, rather than based on historic spend. According to the Commission’s own data, the UK’s allocation of Pillar 2 funding per hectare in 2013 is the lowest of any Member States. This must be addressed in the new CAP.”
The outline bargaining position is one of early budget disclosure in return for support: “The UK needs the right support to help meet the Commissioner’s ambitions. We must have early clarity on both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 allocation, before we decide on the regulation – or indeed the CAP package.”
Outside the conference, protesters gathered to lobby the NFU conference in terms of the badger culling proposals issued by DEFRA in January. Distributing leaflets like this one, protesters spoke out against the DEFRA authorised pilot areas for proactive badger culling to control bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in dairy herds, a measure that the NFU has been demanding for years.