UFU feed into EU Commissioner’s CAP simplification review

Friday, 27 February, 2015

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has submitted its views to EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan on possible ways to simplify the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). UFU President Ian Marshall and CEO Clarke Black met with Commissioner Hogan in December 2014 to discuss a range of issues, including simplification, and at that time the Commissioner asked the Union to share its ideas and proposals for simplifying the CAP. Since then the Commissioner has asked for views more widely, with industry and Governments across the EU also getting involved, including DARD. The UFU has also fed its comments into DARD’s response.

UFU President Ian Marshall said: “From the beginning of the CAP reform process we had serious concerns about how overly complicated the whole package was. We worked hard to see it simplified and we were successful to some extent but there is still much that could be done to make it more practical and farmer friendly, while still satisfying EU requirements.

“When it comes to cross-compliance, the Union believes that historically the controls associated with the CAP have been over zealous. There seems to be a lack of understanding that we are dealing with ‘real world’ practical situations and that this is not an exact science. Against this background we have long advocated the introduction of tolerance levels; an early warning system; a much more proportionate penalty system; and streamlined inspection levels when it comes to cross-compliance. Mapping has always been an area where difficulties have arisen historically and is another crucial area that needs reviewed. Farmers have already been through several mapping fiascos and this will be further compounded by the ‘Greening’ requirements of the new CAP with both Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) and crop diversification proving particularly problematic in terms of identification and measurement.

“The lack of clarity around the definition of an ‘Active Farmer’ also continues to pose significant problems in Northern Ireland and has resulted in a very considerable adverse impact on large numbers of genuine farming businesses in terms of land availability. We are now in a situation where many landowners have decided to create conditions to become ‘active farmers’ to secure EU Direct Support for themselves and this has caused severe land availability issues for existing farmers generally, and more specifically for potato and vegetable growers. From the outset, the UFU set out to secure an historic date for the definition of an ‘Active Farmer’ to avoid the potential to create artificial farming conditions, which would have avoided these problems that are now arising. However, DARD opted for a future date so for farmers in Northern Ireland we need greater clarification with regards to the active farmer definition.

“The new CAP rules are complex and lack clarity and for many of the requirements, in particular greening, the necessary details are still either not available or are changing as further clarification between DARD and the EU Commission is obtained. Leaving farmers presently to operate and take decisions against a background of inadequate and delayed relevant information and guidance provision. This is all despite the fact that the submission deadline for the application process is only a few months away and many practical farming decisions have already had to be taken. We have provided the EU Commissioner with specific examples to help illustrate our points, specifically around environmental and cattle ID cross-compliance situations. 

“Simplifying the CAP is a major issue for farmers in Northern Ireland and I believe Commissioner Hogan is committed to making a genuine and positive difference on the ground. It is understood that this crucial issue is to be discussed at the EU’s Agriculture Council in March and the UFU will be keeping a close eye on developments.”