Lit­tle cer­tainty in farm­ing’s big agenda be­yond Brexit

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - News - @bel­tel_busi­ness

The de­bate about the con­se­quences of Brexit has, un­der­stand­ably, fo­cused heav­ily on how trad­ing con­di­tions may change, par­tic­u­larly for man­u­fac­tured goods, the sup­ply of ser­vices and the cross-border move­ment of peo­ple.

This month, an over­due in­ter­ven­tion added an­other ma­jor area of un­cer­tainty stem­ming from Brexit. The Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (En­vi­ron­ment and Ru­ral Af­fairs) has opened a crit­i­cal de­bate about how the farm­ing in­dus­try will ad­just to life with­out the CAP (Com­mon Agri­cul­ture Pol­icy).

A 68 page doc­u­ment out­lines a range of con­sul­ta­tive pro­pos­als, which now await re­sponses from in­ter­ested or­gan­i­sa­tions by Oc­to­ber 10, 2018, so that the civil ser­vice can pre­pare ideas — be­lat­edly — to put to the min­is­ter (as­sum­ing that there will be a min­is­ter). This ‘green pa­per’ is an in­com­plete open­ing gam­bit.

What hap­pens when the CAP is gone is a dif­fi­cult and costly prob­lem which must rec­on­cile di­ver­gent in­ter­ests.

De­ci­sions on the de­vo­lu­tion of farm­ing pol­icy and the method of de­cid­ing the level of gov­ern­ment spend­ing on farm sup­port are crit­i­cal to the de­bate about the fu­ture of farm­ing pol­icy in North­ern Ire­land.

The con­sul­ta­tion doc­u­ment works on the as­sump­tion that farm pol­icy will re­main de­volved in NI and po­ten­tially may dif­fer from de­ci­sions made for Eng­land or Scot­land.

That as­sump­tion may be jus­ti­fied where farm sup­port poli­cies are based on farm size or other de­fined non-mar­ket re­lated ap­pli­ca­tions.

The con­sul­ta­tive pa­per pre­sumes, re­flect­ing UK gov­ern­ment ex­pec­ta­tions, that a sys­tem akin to the out-go­ing CAP sys­tem of Sin­gle Farm Pay­ments (SFP) will be in­tro­duced. The con­sul­ta­tion de­scribes the re­place­ment sys­tem as a Ba­sic Pay­ments Scheme which will main­tain a farm sup­port bud­get based on the present sys­tem of pay­ments per hectare, which will be con­stant in cash terms for the years 2020-21. A re­place­ment scheme is to be de­vised for 2022 and on­wards.

Pre­sum­ably the UK gov­ern­ment may also in­tro­duce some forms of mar­ket sup­port, if only to reg­u­late oc­ca­sional short­ages or sur­pluses, which will of ne­ces­sity be reg­u­lated on a Uk-wide ba­sis. The like­li­hood is that the greater part of farm sup­port will not be mar­ket prod­uct re­lated but will re­flect poli­cies to en­hance pro­duc­tiv­ity, en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity or to fa­cil­i­tate sup­ply chain flows.

A crit­i­cal as­sump­tion un­der­pin­ning the con­sul­ta­tive pa­per is that UK pol­icy ‘will pro­vide an un­prece­dented level of re­gional dis­cre­tion and flex­i­bil­ity (which) rep­re­sents a unique op­por­tu­nity to de­velop a new dy­namic... to chart a new way for­ward with com­mon pur­pose’.

The as­sump­tion that a re­place­ment of the SFP sys­tem will be in­tro­duced then poses ques­tions about the size of a re­gional farm­ing bud­get for NI and, at the next stage, the al­lo­ca­tion prin­ci­ples to sub-di­vide this fund­ing in ways which de­velop a sus­tain­able land man­age­ment strat­egy across NI.

Can NI ex­pect to re­ceive, af­ter 2020, the same level of farm sup­port as is presently avail­able? Cur­rently, ac­cord­ing to the con­sul­ta­tion pa­per, the CAP (Pil­lar 1) pro­vides about €327m each year.

The com­mit­ment in the con­sul­ta­tive pa­per is to main­tain the cur­rent bud­get in cash terms. That is al­ready an ac­knowl­edge­ment of a re­duc­ing real bud­get. Seen from a Trea­sury per­spec­tive, there is a risk that this level of fund­ing will be chal­lenged as be­ing too favourable to NI.

The con­sul­ta­tive pa­per em­pha­sises that fu­ture farm pol­icy should be used to sup­port in­creased pro­duc­tiv­ity from farms, im­proved re­silience to mar­ket changes, en­hanced en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity and im­proved op­er­a­tion of the food sup­ply chain.

As pre­sented, the themes are com­mend­able. Some of the im­pli­ca­tions in terms of re­struc­tur­ing the farm sec­tor need to be made clearer and, where nec­es­sary, un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions tack­led.

Miss­ing in the con­sul­ta­tive pa­per is any an­tic­i­pa­tion of the pos­si­ble changes in the way in which farm pro­duce mar­kets will change as the UK sep­a­rates from CAP struc­tures. Will com­pet­i­tive im­ports dis­place some of the mar­ket share of NI in the UK beef, pork or diary sec­tors? The farm­ing pol­icy frame­work has not ex­am­ined these crit­i­cal un­cer­tain­ties.

Brexit may shift rules in NI’S farm­ing in­dus­try

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.