MEPs grapple with issue of CAP amendments
THE accident last month which claimed the lives of Noel, Graham and Nevin Spence was a terrible tragedy that shocked us all and brought home to everyone the dangers associated with today’s agricultural industry.
As someone who lives on a busy farm I know only too well the pressures that are associated with working to complete a multitude of farm jobs while the nature of the work means that dangers are always present. No words can ease the pain and sense of loss being felt by those touched by this latest tragedy but given the rising number of farm accidents and fatalities we must work to ensure that the dangers are minimised and that all reasonable precautions are taken to help improve farm safety in the future.
I was extremely pleased with the recent visit of Commissioner Ciolo to Northern Ireland and I wish to thank all those who participated in and helped to organise all aspects of the itinerary. It was fitting that the Commissioner visited Greenmount in this its centenary year, as the Commissioner himself noted the college is twice as old as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which is marking its half century this year. Over the decades the college’s contribution to Northern Ireland agriculture and horticulture has been immense.
During a presentation from the college’s Principal, John Fay, we heard about the college’s expansion and the high level of demand for its many courses plus had the opportunity to speak with some students all of which highlighted the importance of agriculture and horticulture to Northern Ireland. Speaking with the students and hearing their concerns also reinforced the need for the CAP negotiations to deliver for the long term future of the industry. Although it was something of a whirlwind visit I believe that the various stakeholders who engaged with the Commissioner and his staff directly outlined all of our key concerns and issues such as the fact that Northern Ireland does not have the environmental problems found in other Member States and that a one-size-fits-all approach is unworkable. Indeed during this week’s European Congress on Agriculture in Budapest the Commissioner referred to several of the specific problems concerning the proposed greening measures that had been explained and illustrated to him during his visit and farm tour in Northern Ireland.
For my part I was also grateful to the Commissioner for recognising the role that the Agriculture Co-ordinators play in the current negotiations. At present we are locked in meetings working through the thousands of amendments that were tabled by MEPs before the summer recess to produce so-called compromise amendments. Everything is therefore up for discussion although I must say that I disagree with much of what is coming forward in these meetings. Everyone has their own priorities and regional preferences as to the future of the CAP, for example some MEPs have proposed that rabbit meat should be included in intervention. While it is understandable that representatives wish to see their constituency catered for - we in Northern Ireland have our own specific needs and concerns after all - those wishing to see new proposals included in the CAP must however appreciate that tough choices have to be made and that every wish list cannot be delivered. Given the pressure on budgets the apparent desire by some to spread the money ever wider will simply diminish the amount that farmers who currently receive payments will get in the future. It is clear that given the many challenges that lie ahead in the negotiations it is vital that everyone works together to achieve the best possible deal for the UK as a whole and for Northern Ireland in particular.
Indeed during last week’s Agriculture Council - when the Agriculture Ministers of all Member States meet - a broad spectrum of views were also on display regarding the issues on the agenda which included; the revision of the Less Favoured Areas (LFA) scheme, Rural Development policy and crisis support for the meat and dairy sectors which again reinforces just how complex finding agreement on the CAP will be. I used the opportunity to meet with the newly appointed Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and Richard Benyon the Fisheries Minister who were in Brussels for the Agriculture and Fisheries Council and we discussed recent developments in the reform of both the CAP and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
Unfortunately irrespective of the outcome of the current reform process our farmers are looking at a substantial percentage cut in their 2012 Single Farm Payments due to the weakened Euro. The rate used for converting payments was set last week at £0.79805 compared to the 2011 rate of £0.8666, equating to a 7.92% decrease for UK farmers.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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