Farm leaders warn ministers over CAP reform deal fears
Farmers are worried that the Government may sell out over conditions in the new EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which would see greater environmental rules imposed on them – and less direct support payments.
As a result, the largest-ever coalition of British farming organisations has sent an open letter urging the Government not to damage English farming and domestic food production by treating farmers unfairly in the new CAP.
The coalition, launched by the National Farmers' Union (NFU), the Country Land and Business Association and the Tenant Farmers' Association, now has 24 members united in their call for a fair deal.
The warning comes as British agriculture is facing a worse crisis than the foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001.
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According to the Prince's Countryside Fund, around 90 per cent of our farmers will be hit by the "perfect storm" of appalling weather, increasing diseases in livestock – both bovine TB and Schmallenberg in sheep – while retailers force prices down and the cost of feed goes us.
English farmers already receive payments that are lower than their major European competitors, and the coalition is worried that they will be further disadvantaged by the way that the Government may choose to implement the CAP.
The reform of the CAP is likely to continue into the summer, with new rules imposed from 2015.
The farming coalition's "call to arms" asks for MPs to raise concerns with the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Government ministers based on the two threats: more costly and demanding forms of "greening" for English farmers than will be required from farmers in the rest of Europe, and increased rates of "voluntary modulation" – moving money from direct payments for farmers to rural development schemes.
Peter Kendall, the NFU president, said: "CAP reform has never been about the money for us. It's about fairness and making sure English farmers are not disadvantaged by our own Government.
"It seems to me that at a time when consumers are seeking to buy more traceable British food, and retailers are looking to farmers here to supply that demand, we also need a Government at home that will support our farming industry."
He pointed out that, when in opposition, David Cameron had said there was a "need to create a level playing field with foreign competitors when it comes to regulation." Mr Cameron had added: "Our Government often imposes far more onerous standards on British agriculture than exist elsewhere in the EU. These can have perverse consequences. Instead of driving standards up, they just drive farmers out of business."
Mr Kendall said: "What we need is for this Government to deliver on that. What we don't need is convenient amnesia on what was promised when Mr Cameron was in opposition.
"The letter we have sent will remind MPs of the importance of getting this reform, and its implementation here at home, absolutely right. We need a fair deal for farmers – the future of our food and farming industry depends on it."