North's Farm Payments 'Eclipse UK'

With a series of meetings due to be held in the New Year for farmers in the North to discuss the coming reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a senior European Union official has been outlining the EC's view on the way ahead.

The Head of the European Commission's NI office, Maurice Maxwell this week briefed journalists on 'CAP Towards 2020'.

He explained that Northern Ireland's level of Single Farm Payment was currently eclipsing that of all the other parts of the UK - with the payment per hectare at a huge €360 as compared to the average UK rate of €262 - being much more than either Scotland, Wales or England.

On Friday, he told the Guild of Agricultural Journalists to expect change in the regime over the next few years, specifically on Single Farm Payments (SFP) as Europe revises its agricultural policy towards 2020.

He said that once agreement was reached then legal proposals would follow and he hoped to see draft European legislation being presented by mid 2011.

Outlining that the next 20 years would see a 50% rise in global demand for food he emphasised how important it was for the EC to get its policies right.

"Some 41% of the EC budget currently goes on the CAP," he explained, but put this in context, by adding that this represented only 0.5% of Europe's overall gross domestic product.

"CAP reform for the period 2014 to 2020 would see the budget reduced and see a move toward limiting CAP and possibly the imposition of a flat rate Single Farm Payment system," he said.

Explaining the big difference on the local rate of SFP, he said this was mostly "historical" and related to the way in which such payments had been claimed by the agricultural sector.

But, putting it into context, he said that farmers in Greece are paid a huge €550 per hectare while Latvia was paid just €90.

Moving to a flat rate structure might well be a possibility, with Mr Maxwell pointing to the official EC 'Cap Towards 2020' document which said that while "such a proposal was floated in public debate", it also said that "producers face very different economic and natural conditions".

The question is therefore how to reach an equitable distribution that reflects (this) "in a pragmatic manner".

Again referring to the document, he said the EC believed that "a system that limits the gains and loses of Member States...by guaranteeing on average a minimum share" might be the answer.

The EU boss was speaking as news emerged that the President of the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU), John Thompson is due to head meetings to discuss the coming reform of the CAP.

Mr Thompson told the Fermanagh UFU County Committee annual dinner in the Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen last weekend that he had just returned from Brussels for news of the CAP reform.

The President said he met with EU Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos and impressed on him the need for CAP to have a strong budget to support an agriculture industry delivering safe high quality food, jobs, environmental management and cohesive rural communities.

He said NI farmers wanted a more simplified CAP but noted that the Single Farm Payment was "crucial to the future of farm income" and that farmers would have an opportunity at the meetings to air their questions and any concerns at proposals at the UFU meetings in the New Year.


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