The good news is that we all want a greener CAP, but it’s got to be workable for Scottish farmers.
That’s an argument that has been won.
If farming isn’t sustainable - if it fails to support biodiversity, protect our natural resources and both mitigate and adapt to climate change - then it will fail to feed the growing global population, with an extra billion mouths to feed in just 13 years time.
What needs to be agreed now is the “how”:
How can the CAP be reformed to ensure agriculture delivers the public goods and environmental benefits we know we need? That the public want and consumers respect you for.
The UK’s view is that Pillar 2 is the best way to deliver meaningful environmental outcomes.
Pillar 2 programmes are multi-annual, contractual and can be tailored to local conditions and deliver over a longer timescale.
Pillar 2 allows the flexibility that 27 highly diverse Member States will require delivering something targeted at their circumstances.
We are not persuaded that the Commission’s current proposals to green Pillar 1 will deliver significant environmental benefits.
We are concerned that they would increase red tape for farmers.
The recent European Court of Auditors (ECA) report on the reform proposals has a similar view
The Court doubts whether the proposed measures can be implemented effectively without imposing an excessive administrative burden on farmers.
The proposals also fail to explain or justify the impact of the measures.
Our concern is the possibility of unintended but perverse consequences.
Protecting permanent grassland, for example, has benefits for biodiversity, landscape character, climate change and resource protection.
But there is no evidence to support mandatory protection of permanent grassland at farm level.
Despite the potential economic incentives there hasn’t been a big move away from permanent grassland.
But there is anecdotal evidence is that the Commission proposal for a reference year of 2014 is creating a perverse incentive to plough up grassland.
This risk was highlighted by European Court of Auditors’ report.
I am also concerned about aspects of the greening proposals which are of particular concern to Scotland:
I’m working to ensure, for example, that heather counts as “permanent grassland”, and also to ensure that unmanaged wild areas do not attract payments - even if they are technically in good agricultural condition.
If, however, there is to be greening of Pillar 1, then it should be based on six principles:
1 - The environmental benefits delivered by greening should be additional to those already delivered by cross compliance.
2 - There must be flexibility for Member States - and regions within Member states - to choose from a range of options to meet their different circumstances and hence their different environmental objectives.
3 - But there must be a sufficient degree of equivalence of environmental outcomes across Members States, it must be auditable.
4 - The level of administrative burden and complexity must be proportionate to the benefits.
5 - There must be recognition of the efforts of those farmers who have already committed to environmental measures under Pillar 2. Farmers who are ahead of the game on environmental management (in England our farmers have been ahead of the game for the last 25 years) must not be disadvantaged. “Don’t penalize the champions”
And 6 - A proper balance between environmental benefits and sustainable production must be ensured.
You just need to look at England and Scotland, two close neighbours who share the same island, to see that “one size does NOT fit all”. This is where I take issue with the Commission and why we need flexibility.
Our farm structures, and our climates, are too different.
Your farmers and land managers play a vital role as custodians of your iconic landscapes; at the same time maintaining your global reputation for livestock and food of the highest quality.
Deciding on how to improve the environmental performance in Scottish farming is not something we want to do from London - still less from Brussels.
I want a framework that ensures a fair deal for European taxpayers and for the environment; but I want to see Scottish Ministers able to work with Scottish stakeholders to develop solutions that work for Scottish farming
So we want to work with the Commission and other Member States to ensure that the CAP is greened effectively, and with minimal administrative burdens, to secure practical, effective and simple provisions for farmers.
And there is strength in numbers. As part of the Stockholm Group, of like-minded nations, the UK has a strong voice.
We also want to work closely with the industry to design greening schemes, ensuring the requirements are clear, logical and well-understood.
The negotiations still have a way to go and my job is to make sure I get the best possible deal for the UK.
There are a number of things that could allow for more flexibility on greening:
One way could be for Member States to have flexibility to use Pillar 1 resources to set up relatively simple agri-environment schemes which are open to all farms, and which have the ambition of covering a significant majority of our agricultural land.
Another could be, a menu-based approach: to expand the range of greening options from which Member States - and regions - can choose to ensure that they work in a way that is tailored to their circumstances.
We could also promote how far farmers already in agri-environment schemes should be considered to be “green by definition.”
But I want to make two things clear:
One; the menu-based approach should not be used to water down greening - choosing the easiest measures which make little real difference.
The items on the menu need to provide real environmental improvements.
Member States - and regions - need to provide equivalent levels of greening through their options.
Two; we can’t double fund measures in Pillars 1 and 2.
We have to recognise that if something is a greening requirement or option, it can’t also be paid for under agri-environment schemes.
Clearly even if these high-level principles and proposals are accepted, there is still a lot of detail to fill in. For example: -
What options should be on menus?
What counts as “greening by definition?”
This conference is timely in that it could potentially come up with creative answers to these questions. Above all it’s the best deal for the UK we want.
So, I look forward to working further with you and Scottish Ministers alongside other devolved administration colleagues on getting ideas into policy.