The CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) of the future could see a fundamental shift towards rural development supports instead of direct payments linked to acreage – if proposals presented in a new EU Commission report gain traction, Mairead McGuinness MEP for Roscommon and Vice-President of the European Parliament said today (Sunday).
Speaking at the Tullamore Show, Ms McGuinness said Ireland needs to be open to new ideas around agriculture policy but, crucially, “must lead the debate rather than wait for proposals to be brought forward.”
She said that even with significant payments currently to farmers from the CAP, many are struggling to cope with low commodity prices and increasing input costs.
“In three weeks’ time French and German farm leaders meet in Chambord to discuss the shape of the CAP post-2020. It is important that all member states are involved in this discussion.”
She said the meeting will also examine the implications for the EU farm sector of Brexit, a key concern for Ireland with implications for trade, standards and budget.
“The debate on the future of the CAP comes at a time when low commodity prices across all sectors is leading to low farm incomes and losses in some sectors. Payments to farmers by way of single farm payment are important in providing income support in difficult times.
“A new report on European Sustainability prepared for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker points out that the average family spend on food is just 15pc of monthly income compared with 30pc in the early 1960s.”
Ms McGuinness said the latest report for the European Commission suggests that less specialization on farms may be the way forward, with French research pointing out that halving both nitrate and herbicide use on grain farms resulted in a €200/ha benefit and improved biodiversity.
She said the report calls for a different CAP, putting people, environment and profit on an equal footing.
“However the report falls short of addressing the key concern for farm families, namely economic sustainability today and into the future. It fails to address price and income volatility, but it does raise significant questions about the nature of agriculture production and the disparities between farmers.
“The EU has 12 million farmers, with an average farm size of 12 ha and significant numbers of farmers with very low incomes.”
The report points to a future where farmers are less dependent on inputs and seeds suppliers by adopting an approach based on agro-ecology. It also calls for system changes to allow for more labour intensive agriculture systems.
“But again it fails to point out how food prices and those paid to farmers would need to change significantly to allow for this system change.
“The report is less enthusiastic about precision farming claiming that it falls short of building a more integrated farm system, which maintains a healthy soil ecosystem and a healthy work environment for farmers who are less economically dependent on external inputs.”
Commenting on the UK decision to leave the EU, Ms McGuinness said farmers and the food industry are already feeling the impact of the decision and future impacts will depend on the nature of the relationship between the UK and the EU when the UK actually leaves the EU.
“When that will be is unclear but our objective is to ensure that trade continues and that especially on the island of Ireland there is minimum disruption to people and business,” she said.