Common Agricultural Policy must not penalise farmers, warn MPs
The government must give English farmers the funding they need to invest in their businesses in order to protect their competitiveness, says a group of MPs.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, in a review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), warns that the government must not take direct payments away from farmers to fund environmental schemes.
Instead, the MPs say that the government should maintain the current rate of 9 per cent transfer away from the direct payment budget, and only increase this to 15 per cent in 2017 if the environmental schemes require additional funding and the changes benefit farmers.
Ann McIntosh, MP and Committee chair, said: “Against a background where farm incomes are falling, the government needs to recognise that cutting payments to these businesses will reduce their ability to compete in the marketplace".
“This will leave farmers less able to invest in vital infrastructure and may make them more vulnerable to shocks such as poor weather, higher input costs and price variations”.
In June 2013, EU leaders agreed the shape of the Common Agricultural Policy for 2014– 2020. The final agreement left a great deal of flexibility for members to implement many aspects of the CAP in a way which suits them.
Throughout November, the government launched a consultation on the implementation of CAP Reform in England.
Today, the committee said they found "much to like" in the government proposals, but warned that any loss of access to agri-environment scheme funding for those farming in the harshest of environments could leave them worse off overall.
The committee reveals that the government wants to make access to CAP “digital by default”, which will mean that all farmers will have to apply online.
The MPs say there are concerns with the digitalisation of CAP which could make a farmer’s application unnecessarily difficult or have a negative effect on any payments made to farmers.
McIntosh said: “Farmers know from bitter past experience that the development of the new IT system will be a stand-out challenge for government".
"A lot went wrong in the last round of changes, and these problems gave rise to £580 million in penalties".
"With that in mind, we question whether it makes sense to introduce a new computer system at the same time as complex new payment rules", she said. “Forcing people to engage digitally when they may well lack adequate broadband or the knowledge required could undermine successful implementation of the new scheme".
The committee agrees that the government is right to ignore a National Certification Scheme approach to “greening”, which the MPs say does not provide any flexibility to avoid the Commission’s impractical crop diversification rule.