Paterson incurs wrath over hard line CAP stance

DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson has set himself on a collision course with the devolved administrations and UK farming unions by spelling out his desire to scrap direct farm payments.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday, Mr Paterson highlighted the significance of 2013 as a year when the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform should be agreed.

While acknowledging ‘we might not get there this time’, he told conference he had a ‘clear end point’ in mind where ‘decisions on which food to produce are left to the market’.

“I believe that taxpayers’ money should be used to support public goods for which there is no market mechanism such as the contribution farming makes to our habitats and wildlife.  We must be able to continue to support and develop our agri-environment schemes,” he said.

He stressed that any reforms agreed this year must avoid a repeat of the ‘horrendously complicated’ system implemented in England in 2005 which cost that Government more than €550 million in EU disallowance fines.

But Mr Paterson’s hard line stance on phasing out direct payments as soon as possible and cutting the CAP budget prompted some stark criticism from elsewhere in the UK and within the farming sector.

In his New Year industry message, Wales’ Deputy Minister for Agriculture Alun Davies said his ‘one major disappointment’ of 2012 was ‘the UK Government’s determination to seek very significant cuts to the CAP’.

“I have made very clear to the UK Government that in doing so they are neither representing a Welsh viewpoint nor a perspective that is shared outside of Westminster and Whitehall,” he said.

NFU president Peter Kendall warned Mr Paterson he was in danger of alienating the UK within the EU, claiming that ‘with the possible exception of Sweden’, the UK was alone in its arguments on the CAP budget.

He suggested Mr Paterson was unrealistic to think he could secure this sort of reform and contrasted his stance with that of his predecessors in the negotiations, Caroline Spelman and Jim Paice, who had shown a ‘real desire to work with other member states and seemed to be aware of what was possible’.

“I think he needs to think twice about where the rest of Europe is on CAP. The very large majority of Europe and most countries around the world want to carry on supporting farmers,” Mr Kendall said.

Mr Kendall said the NFU accepted the CAP could not be exempt from cuts ‘in these straitened times’ but the ‘hostile weather events’ of 2012 highlighted how CAP support was an ‘absolute lifeline’ to many farmers.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon for has called on the UK Government to consider redistributing the UK share of CAP funds, once area payments are in place, to bolster payments to Scottish farmers.

Readers' comments (2)

  • 1. Government does not take good advice on the range of problems and economic factors, which are complicated by strong currency, devolution, EU politics, and unjustified hostility towards the countryside. Problems are compounded by both a lack of practical knowledge and genuine communication skills. Confusion is fed by increasing amounts of poor quality research, and a raft of unsound lobbying organisations, many who obtain money by misleading, or deceiving, public and Parliament. Doubling of overall Government expenditure in 8 years, without real benefits, is hugely deflationary. The current size and ambitions of Government, as in the EU, are not sustainable. In removing support for the production of food, Government is set to waste larger sums on un-costed environmental management schemes, which ignore best practice, and have an uncertain future.

    2 Our taxpayers have contributed each year as much as £15bn per annum to EU farmers, whilst production subsidies in Britain of some £2.2bn have been removed. Subsidised agricultural production exists all around the World, amounting to some £200bn. However trade agreements sanctioned by Government encourage cheap subsidised products to be dumped in Britain.

    3 There is no realistic long term Strategic Planning and Incentives (not compulsion) for the efficient home production of food, adding value in processing that food, facilitating competitive exports, and raising standards of food, disease, and energy security. There is an influential, misguided belief, that agriculture is a side show, and should go the same way as the fishing industry. Those dealing with Government feel betrayed by lack of progress, and conflicting messages. In consequence, the good management and sound stewardship of countryside, especially in the uplands, is not achievable under current plans. Master craftsmen are ignored.

    4 Government and the Office of Fair Trading are having difficulty in defining and implementing fair trade. They are allowing efficient businesses to put out of business by unfair competition, the buying power of cartels and monopolies, and mafia styled activities. Food miles and fuel costs are ignored. Good farmers, with the crucial skills to pass on to future generations, require a safety net and support, not closure. Action now is a national priority. The absence of a level playing field ensures that nobody wins, be it Home Food Production, Third World Fair Deals, or the Tax Payer.
    5 Lack of Competitiveness through the expense of unnecessary Government Red Tape.

    6 British Agriculture has been hugely disadvantaged by some £30bn over 20 years by the political failure to pass on the EU Payments Rebate, which was negotiated on their behalf to compensate for currency losses, one reason why British farmers are at the bottom of the earnings league table.

    7. The artificially High Pound and relative High Cost of Money has set a dangerous precedent for future economic stability. Most supply side industries and tourism have suffered permanent damage as a consequence, and we are also left with an Unsustainable Trade Deficit.

    8 50% of our Food Processing Capacity and Technology has been lost. This situation has to be reversed, encouraged by Government, in order that real value is added to efficient food production, as has been implemented in New Zealand. Adding value need not increase cost.

    9 Agriculture in other countries also benefit from a range of Discretionary Payments, incentives, and benefits, beyond production subsidies. Relatively low levels of Discretionary Payments are available in Britain, but they tend to be diverted unfairly to areas not needing priority support.

    10. The illusion that we can somehow blame the EU and CAP for the collapse of our farming industry was dispelled by EU Minister Hans Fischler, who stated that, as in the case of other European Governments under CAP, we can treat our farmers as fairly as they do. Any blame therefore rests fair and square on our own successive Governments. Britain can have its own superb Agricultural Industry - without severance of the ability to give good advice to the EU.

    The above view of the issues was prepared by Edmund Marriage for the Conservative Rural Action Group in 2006 for circulation to MP's. As the RSPB, Defra and Natural England are still allowed to dominate Government policy making on Agriculture and Countryside management, running rings round ministers, there is little hope for progress. The above blogged comments accurately record the current horror story for British farmers. Large contributions to pillar one are essential for upland and lowland farming survival because of the overall economic neglect imposed by politicians and environmental cases. Environmental management payments are not producing results nationally and are therefore wasted needlessly. Farmland and upland bird populations continue to decline to extinction. The worst management neglect is demonstrated by the RSPB particularly in upland areas, where Labours upland clearances of cattle and sheep have taken wildlife along with them. The reality is that current research demonstrates between 80 and 90% losses from predation for our most vulnerable species. Successful wildlife management requires the three legged stool, of all year round habitat provision, food and water supplies, and predator control. Failure in any one of these three, results in disaster. Human disturbance of wildlife represents another a growing environmental threat.

    Support British Wildlife Management now for the radical changes needed to bring back best practice wildlife management, and a thriving farming industry in the uplands and lowlands. NFU, CLA, CA etc. wake up to what political ignorance and contempt has done and is doing to wreck this great country.

    Edmund Marriage

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  • The best way for the UK to compete and save money would be for Patterson to be sacked and DEFRA shutdown.

    The UK would save money twice over - initially from the cost savings and scondly from disasterous policy implementation in a COMMON MARKET.

    Only a lunatic would put his own countries industry at a disadvantage and pump money into Schemes which produce no return - exponentially so during a recession.

    How can "good value for money" be atributted to something which returns no jobs, no money, no food and questionable wildlife benefits.

    I have NEVER seen anyone from the RSPB or any other "Wiildlife Charity" ever in my whole farming life. All these "charities" need to be investigated into where the money is actually going and why they have influence over policy - given the fact TAX PAYERS seem to have little to no input..

    Strangely enough I thought I lived in a democracy where we all paid tax for the common good. Howevert it seems as though TAX PAYERS are being treated as worse than dirt.

    However I think there is a distinct possibility that the situation is worse.

    Large tracts of land in Africa have been bought up by multinational comapnies and hedge funds.

    Given Patterson's support for GM crops I think there is a distinct possibility that both Patterson and Osbourne are trying to destroy UK farming in order to make a few people very rich by importing African GM produce.

    The country doesnt need Patterson nor DEFRA.

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