The need for CAP reform is clear, and change is coming soon, but it faces a race against time for European Commission proposals to be approved before the end of the current legislature. That was the key message from the recent ‘Forum on Fertilizers and Nutrients for Growth’ event in the European Parliament co-chaired by MEPs Peter Jahr and Julie Girling.
Opening the meeting, Jahr reminded the audience that the overarching purpose of the CAP was to help agriculture meet the needs of Europe’s citizens. “Our main focus must always be the farmer”.
It was also an opportunity to redress many of the current shortcomings. “CAP reform not only o-ffers the chance to orientate its objectives in a way that encourages greater sustainability in farming and reduces bureaucracy, it is also the opportunity to improve society’s understanding of the contribution CAP makes to lives in Europe.”
Deputy Director-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, Rudolf Mögele, offered a detailed overview of the Commission’s vision for the future of EU food and farming policy post-2020. He stressed that the overall objective was simplifying and modernising the policy and that the new CAP would see fairer distribution of direct payments between member states although he recognised that the impact of Brexit on the overall budget remained unclear.
“One-third of the specific objectives are environment and/ or climate change specific, with funding ring-fenced; member states will be expected to spend at least 30 per cent of the EAFRD budget. In total, 40 per cent of CAP spending will be climate change relevant,” he explained.
Elli Tsifourou of GAIA Epicheirein stressed the need to make the most of the potential of digitisation in making CAP more effective by embracing smart farming. She outlined the experience in Greece, where a smart farming project had maximised the impact of irrigation, fertilisation and crop protection through monitoring a variety of data sources.
However, Tsiforou was concerned that CAP proposals would not deliver enough for smart farming; “It needs to ensure there is equal access to the benefits for all farms regions and member states - there should be no digital divide.”
Jabier Ruiz, from WWF Europe, emphasised the importance of working together to make a better CAP. A new delivery model was important; the current CAP saw farmers obliged to do things they wouldn’t otherwise consider, in the name of obligation and compliance. In future they should do what’s best. “We need a vision of how we will farm in five to ten years’ time.”
Tiffanie Stephani, of Fertilizers Europe, was concerned that everyone was expecting too much from the CAP. While reform was urgently needed, wholesale renationalisation would be a mistake.
Fertilizers Europe felt that there should be three main objectives for the CAP; to provide a fair and stable standard of living for farmers, to ensure a supply of healthy, safe and diversified products for consumers and to reward farmers for contributing to environmental goals.
She praised the Commission proposal for recognising the diversity of the farming environment and for the greater responsibility for member states, allowing them to adopt the appropriate measures.
However, some reassurance was required as to “Whether reforms will truly deliver the member state-level simplifications and genuine flexibility for farmers, reforms must not comprise the current level playing field.”
Lastly, Fertilizers Europe believed that CAP reforms should provide a range of tools for encouraging farmers to manage their nutrient usage.
It was important to note, she said, that “Fertilisers - organic or mineral - do not cause pollution; inappropriate fertilisation practices do.”
She also stressed that “Although there has been a positive trend to fewer nutrient losses, there remains room for improvement.”
European Parliament rapporteur, Esther Herranz García said that, given the substantial shift from a fully prescriptive-based approach to a sanction-based one, a more doubts and concerns were inevitable.
She said that “the so-called ‘simplification’ was “nothing more than a slimming of the CAP and would entail a huge administrative burden for member states and a remarkable increase in bureaucracy for farmers. This is one to avoid.”
She pointed out that this was only the first discussion on these proposed deep reforms, and to ask for people to “wish us luck; we’re going to need it if we’re going to meet the expectations of farmers and people living in rural environments. It won’t be easy - probably impossible - to reach agreement in the eight months that remain.”
In her closing remarks, Julie Girling admitted to a feeling of déjà vu over process issues and time compression as well as the splitting of the report into different headings.
It was, therefore, “time for more trust - farmers want to do the right thing. There needs to be more understanding of the tasks of agriculture, its diversity across Europe and greater flexibility in planning to reflect farmers’ needs.”
However, she stressed that “There is so much detail here that we should not even think we will be in a position to do something within eight months; we should abandon that idea. We should take that time to set the scene for the incoming administration.”