Farmers would rather drop CAP altogether in return for better prices

The EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan has spent most of his time in office talking about the need to put in place a Food Tsar, or Ombudsman.

As yet, I haven’t read the detail of his Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) White Paper. However, the media coverage pertaining to it make no reference to any firm commitment on the part of Brussels to shine a light on the way that the supermarkets go about their business.

But the reports doing the rounds about the White Paper make truly shocking reading.

Looking to the future, it seems that farmers will have no option but to accept reduced levels of direct support; in return for greater environmental restrictions; plus the prospect of yet more inspections.

At this stage I sense that many Irish farmers would be happy to jettison the CAP altogether in return for better prices.

And again I come back to the promises made by commissioner Phil Hogan. He has said, repeatedly, that he wants to bring greater transparency to bear within the entire length of the farming and food chain.

The CAP White Paper was his big chance to make this a reality.

So what has happened to bring about this seeming policy climb down, where the appointment of an EU Food Ombudsman is concerned?

‘Sustainability buzz’

Sustainability is the great buzz word now in vogue to put the challenges currently facing production agriculture into context.

But, it seems to have been forgotten by policy makers, that without economic stability at farm level, agriculture throughout Europe will come off the rails.

The vast majority of farmers will not be able to withstand the combined challenge of future price volatility and reduced levels of support.

But talk of the EU having to cut its farm budget in the wake of Brexit is absolute folly, certainly in the context of the period covered by the next CAP reform.

It now looks like the UK will cough up a €40 billion divorce settlement. So surely some of this money can be directed towards the CAP budget that will kick-in for the five years beyond 2020.

Yes, there is an onus on farmers to become more efficient, if they wish to remain viable. But it’s all too convenient to push all of this heavy lifting in the direction of the primary producer.

Every grouping within the farming and food-chain must come to the table – including the retailers. And, it is for this reason that commissioner Hogan’s failure to confirm the absolute need for the appointment of a Food Tsar within his CAP White Paper is so disappointing.