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Ulster NBA Responds To CAP Proposals

01 March 2011

NORTHERN IRELAND, UK - European Union reform of the Common Agricultural Policy must deliver on three main objectives warns the Northern Ireland regional council of the National Beef Association (NBA).

After considering plans for the CAP beyond 2013 the NBA is adamant any policy to be fair and effective must deliver on three objectives;

  • Profitable food production and food security
  • Protection and enhancement of the environment
  • Regional development and promotion of agriculture in rural areas
Profitable food production and food security

Chairman Oisin Murnion of Kilkeel commenting that for the beef industry profitable food production and food security are huge issues.

“Suckler herds keep shrinking world-wide yet there is a growing demand for food from a rapidly expanding human population. The main reason for the decline in cow numbers is economic. Put simply, minimal margins, if any, from a high input system. If more beef of a higher quality is required then encouragement must be given to suckler producers.

“This can be done in two ways. Firstly the EU can support key producers in the food supply chain when the market price does not cover the costs of production. In the past livestock subsidies were, in reality, a food subsidy to keep the price of food down for the consumer. Now the true costs of production have far exceeded returns from the market.

“Suckler herd owners, indeed beef producers in general. produce food to the very high standards demanded by bureaucrats and consumers. Now they urgently need financial encouragement to continue in business.

“It is clear that without a financial incentive that leaves a profit farmers will simply stop keeping suckler cows at a loss. Therefore the National Beef Association is adamant that there is a very strong case for maintaining the Singe Farm Payment in a way that boosts suckler cows numbers,” Mr Murnion affirmed.

“Secondly, through the use of Article 68, there is an opportunity to move EU support to sectors which are in decline. In regions such as Northern Ireland that means helping suckler herd owners.

“However, the NBA does not advocate a full payment on all cows but an ‘incentive’ payment on production, for example, on all cows in a herd provided at least 80 per cent had produced calves registered within the previous12 months.

“The NBA at regional and national level has continued this debate on the question of who should be supported within the post 2013 CAP proposals. This is a contentious issue, but we feel support must go to ‘active’ farmers, who manage their land, produce food and take the risks inherent in farming. Yet at the same time keep that great national asset, the land, in good agricultural and environmental condition.

“In the NBA we feel strongly that the SFP is a farming payment and not a conservation cum environmental payment. This will differentiate the active, real farmer from those landowners and non-governmental conservation bodies, who ‘say’ they manage the land, but take no farming business risks and have nothing to lose. Payments should go to real farmers who often actually forgo their income and produce food at a loss in order to deliver the public goods required by EU.

“As well as looking at food security the EU should look at the future of agriculture and food production as encouragement must be given to young farmers. The people our industry needs to produce sufficient food for future generations.”

Protection and enhancement of the environment

The NBA in NI also feel that payments under Pillar 1 should be directed towards the support of food production on farms meeting cross-compliance standards. These cross-compliance standards should remain, but with no additional ‘greening’.

NI is green and farmers will continue to keep it ‘green’ as all existing cross-compliance regulations, especially the Nitrates Action Programme, are in place to ensure this happens.

If additional greening in the form of environmental schemes is thought necessary the NBA say then it should be under Pillar 2 with farmers given the opportunity to subscribe to them in a way that complements their existing agricultural business.

NBA chairman Oisin Murnion emphasising that the proper management of grasslands, especially those in upland areas, is vital if a bio-diverse pasture is to be maintained. “Decision makers and rule interpreters, be they in Brussels, Strasbourg, London or Belfast must appreciate that sheep and suckler cows have a unique and vital role in preserving this bio-diversity and helping maintain a healthy environment.

“Climate change and Green House Gases (GHG) are buzz words at the moment that must not be considered as an excuse for ‘greening’ the CAP. Remember GHG emissions from agriculture have decreased by over 20 per cent within the EU since 1990. No doubt the agricultural sector has the potential to further reduce GHG emissions but this should not be an excuse for others to capitalise on the problem.

“The ‘sofa’ farmers - landowners and non-government bodies who own land and presently claim SFP because they keep it in good agricultural and environmental condition should be rewarded for this post 2013 at the same level as they have at present. There is no justification to give them the same level of payment as the true farmer, in fact this should be considered under Pillar 2,” Mr Murnion added.

Regional development and promotion of agriculture in rural areas

The NBA say there appears to be a consensus of opinion that future payments will be based on an average flat rate payment. The agricultural industry, particularly the NBA, fought hard to ensure that NI farmers received the best deal the first time round. The NBA is therefore strongly against the phasing out of direct payments, but realises that the historic element will no longer be acceptable. The NBA still are adamant that there has to be a regional element to the payments and beef farmers must continue to benefit from the existing type payment structure.

“If a flat rate regime was introduced post 2013 NI beef farmers would lose between 35 per cent and 50 per cent of their current payment. This fact, coupled with what I have said earlier, would devastate the beef industry within NI, especially in Less Favoured Areas.

“Most beef farms in NI are small and many are at the bottom of the pyramid both economically and socially. If more farmers leave the industry the fabric of rural society will collapse, more schools will close and services reduced with major land abandonment leading to a total loss of local social and rural infrastructure.

“Under Pillar 1 of the CAP there is an opportunity for simplification of cross-compliance, which is long over due. The NBA accepts there must be an element of inspection, but strongly opposes any further regulations and suggests that the EU takes a ‘practical’ look at all the elements of cross-compliance, the number of inspections from different bodies and most importantly the level of penalty.

“The NBA accepts the suggestion that the SFP should be capped at 100,000 euro per farm business as this will not have a detrimental effect on many Ulster farmers,‘ Mr Murnion added.

All with an interest in the business of beef production are invited to an NBA meeting at 8pm on Wed, March 16 in Dungannon Rugby Club. The NBA alone speaks out for those making a living from the beef sector across all four home countries by lobbying decision makers in Belfast, London and Brussels directly and through MLAs, MPs and MEPs.

TheCattleSite News Desk

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