How to describe CAP to your non-farmer friends

If you’re a farmer you will have heard all of the following lines: “those farmers getting money in the post”; “money for nothing”; “EU money for the farmers” – but consumers seem to be misinformed about the “cheque in the post” and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Ignorance is bliss for the people who think farmers get money for nothing. Without farmers the simple fact is there would be no food and, without EU payments, food would cost a lot more in this country.

Alternatively, the EU could take away these payments and consumers could buy cheaper produce – when and if it’s available – that isn’t produced to EU standards.

Secure food supply

The CAP, from which “the cheque in the post” stems from, was brought in to ensure a secure food supply in Europe. The price of produce was reduced to make EU goods more competitive.

As the prices of these goods decreased, direct payments were brought in to make up for the deficit in farm incomes. This ensured that farmers could continue to farm and supply the EU with food while receiving less money for what they produce.

Low farm incomes

On average, EU farm incomes were just 40% of the EU average income from 2010 to 2014.

Farming is a risky business:
  • Weather is unpredictable – it can ruin crops; farm income can be reduced as a result; and the food supply chain can be affected;
  • Commodity markets – volatile markets mean a lack of income security;
  • Long food production processes – for example, heifers must be reared before they produce any milk and therefore income.

Why pay direct payments?

Direct payments have made many farms viable. They are a safety net for farmers, which provide a stable source of income, that is not affected by markets.

Direct payments account for approximately half of average farm incomes across the EU.

Providing 44 million jobs across Europe

Viable farms help to create other jobs in the food and tourism sectors. 44 million jobs in food processing, retail and services have been created because of the agricultural sector in Europe.


CAP payments are related to environmental measures. Penalties are incurred where land is not maintained in good agricultural and environmental condition. Schemes in Pillar II like GLAS (Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme) provide incentives for farmers to create habitats for wildlife and reduce carbon emissions, among other things.