The general public know little and care less about the CAP

I’ve heard more than one farmer say recently that their crops have never looked better at this time of year. That’s before caution bred of experience prompts a follow-on “But it’s still a long way to harvest” or “But I never count chickens until they’re hatched.”

Saturday, 24th May 2014, 11:31 am
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Good advice, but on some of the late spring days we’ve had recently when the countryside has been a superb study of greens and yellows with ewes and lambs thick on the grass and cattle delighted to be out grazing it is difficult not to be optimistic.

Because the yellow of oilseed rape in full flower catches the eye dramatically it seems there is a bigger acreage of the crop than in recent years. That might be an optical illusion although there will certainly be more than last spring, and with more potential yield. Regardless of precise acreage, it’s interesting that the scare stories of 20 years ago about the effects of oilseed rape on human health aren’t seen or heard much now, if at all.

We’re more likely to see the crop used as a vivid background for photographs as in the one I saw last week of a young woman with horse chest-high among the yellow flowers.

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Bluebells have also featured regularly in photographs in the past week or two. It’s definitely a good year for them, as it was for almost every kind of blossom, including plum, apple and blackthorn and now hawthorn. As I’ve said, difficult not to be cheerful and optimistic.

Except, of course, for those in farming politics where the seemingly endless sequence continues of claims, counter-claims, counter-counter-claims, allegations, retractions, ups, downs and roundabouts in an attempt to conclude changes to Europe’s common agricultural policy (CAP).

The latest development – at time of writing – left me more confused than usual. It centred on how much of the CAP subsidy allocated to Scotland can be linked to production rather than area of ground farmed. Farmers hoped for at least 15%. It was set – by the EU, the UK government? – at 8%.

Passionate arguments followed. It went up to 13%. Then a back-track, down to 9%. Last week the UK government seemed to concede it was up to the Scottish government about whether it went back to 13%.

Good news, I thought, until I read that the Scottish section of the National Sheep Association don’t necessarily think that 13% direct link to production is a good thing. I’m still trying to work out why they think that, but it’s not easy with my head hurting the way it is. I’d like to say I await the next development with interest, but I fear that would be exaggerating.

The public, in my experience know little and care less about the CAP except for occasional bursts of media-fuelled indignation about large subsidies.

But even for farmers the complexities of how these subsidies will be paid from January 1, 2015, have become as opaque as the Schleswig-Holstein question was to pre- World War One politicians.