‘Devil may lie in the detail of newly endorsed CAP rules’ – farm chiefs warn

Farm organisations have broadly welcomed updated EU rules aimed at simplifying the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2018; however, they warn the “devil may yet lie in the detail”.

Yesterday, the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, voted, 39 votes to five, in favour of updated “omnibus” CAP legislation aimed at boosting farmers’ bargaining power and strengthening farmers’ position in a fairer supply chain.

The so-called “Omnibus Regulation” was set up to propose revisions to the EU’s budget (2014-2020), including amendments to the rules and controls within the basic legislation of CAP.

The changes, expected to come into effect from January 2018, are primarily aimed at fine-tuning and simplifying certain elements of the current policy.

Among the new rules agreed by agriculture MEPs yesterday are:
  • The introduction of a sector-specific ‘Income Stabilisation Tool’ (IST) that will allow farmers to be compensated for losses based on the type of production that was hit.
  • The updating of current rules for crop, animal and plant insurance; and mutual funds to make them “more accessible” to struggling farmers.
  • The allowance of member states to grant coupled support to ailing sectors which are particularly important for economic, social and environmental reasons.
  • More member state flexibility to define an ‘active farmer’.

The new rules also support an increase to young farmers’ top-ups from 25% to 50% of the basic payment entitlement – but within the same range of first 25-90 hectares. Young farmers could also now benefit from the top-up for a full five years, regardless of when, during this period, they apply for it.

Exercising caution

Commenting on the development, John Comer, president of Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) said that any commitment to a simpler and fairer CAP is “obviously welcome”.

However, he said farmers would be cautious about the kind of practical effects – if any – that resulted.

Farmers are justifiably suspicious that these ambitions for a less bureaucratic CAP will have a minimal effect in terms of the paperwork and form-filling participating farmers are asked to complete.

“Farmers have been here before when it comes to undertakings to cut down on ‘red tape’ and the blunt truth is that the amount of ‘red tape’ has – if anything – multiplied.

“We will continue to lobby to have the Voluntary Reduction Scheme made an integral policy tool of CAP 2020. We know this kind of scheme works effectively and it makes no sense to leave out something while advocating measures whose effect is very much open to question and unproven,” said Comer.

Eddie Punch, general secretary of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) said increased flexibility around young farmers top up payments is particularly encouraging.

“There is a cohort of young farmers who, because of when they got their herd numbers, are getting ruled out of the five-year benefit. This new rule gets them in for the five-year period, and that is a positive thing and we would particularly welcome that.

“However, with some of the rules around crop insurance and producer groups, it seems quite complex; in theory we welcome it, but the devil will be in the detail,” he said.

Fancy titles for schemes?

Meanwhile, Joe Healy, president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) told AgriLand that any move to strengthen farmers’ position in the food chain is a step in the right direction.

I hope the stabilisation tools will prove to be of real benefit to farmers rather than just fancy titles for schemes.

“The issue around allowing member states to couple some of the payments would be extremely apt for the suckler cow in particular. It means they will be able to go back to local member states and be able to give a premium on the individual suckler cow. The idea in relation to the stabilisation could be a help in that line,” he said.

Young farmers

James Healy, president of Macra Na Feirme said new income stabilisaiton tools are important for young farmers that are developing and investing in their farm businesses.

Young farmers need a degree of certainty to be able to plan for the future. The speed and agility at which the EU Commission can implement decisive action and support farmers in a time of crisis is a very important development.

“Corrective action needs to happen rapidly when a market crisis or market failure occurs, not when the event is nearly over. Allowing the EU Commission and member states more flexibility to introduce measures and supports in times of crises is very welcome,” he concluded.