One of the most complicated financial support systems ever

It seems that arguments about changes to Europe’s common agricultural policy (CAP) have reached the stage that if you aren’t confused you aren’t trying.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 20th February 2014, 5:49 am

Several farmers who attended NFU Scotland’s annual meeting have told me that after listening to a range of government speakers from Scotland, England and Ireland over two days they were now more uncertain about their future.

That is partly a reflection of the complexity of changes proposed for the CAP from 2015 and partly because the speakers, such as Richard Lochhead for the Scottish government, and George Eustice for the UK government, had different agendas. Throw in statements by several speakers about what might happen to farmers in Scotland if the country does become independent and it’s small wonder that no one is sure what might happen.

That there will be winners and losers is certain, because of changes to be made in how subsidies are allocated. But who they will be is another matter. It’s no consolation to farmers in Scotland, particularly beef and sheep producers, that similar arguments are going on in Wales about who will get what and to a lesser extent in England. It won’t be a happy day come August 1 this year, deadline for member states confirming what they intend to do, but at least farmers will know precisely where they are and can then plan accordingly.

Those at the sharp end of change who are liable to lose a large slice of their annual single farm payment subsidy from next year are finding it hard to accept that this is simply another adjustment to one of the most complicated financial support systems ever devised. Or to accept that in the past 40 years since Britain joined what is now the European Union there have been similar controversies about subsidy allocation. Nor is the present furore likely to find them in the mood to settle down to read Andrew Arbuckle’s book “The First 100 Years – the story of NFU Scotland.”

When they do have time it’s worth reading. It is meticulously researched by noted agricultural journalist and politician Mr Arbuckle – helped every step of the way by his brother John – and takes us right up to date via, let’s not forget, two world wars, weather and animal disease crises such as foot and mouth in 2001 and never-ending CAP debates.

There are also reminders of some of the more powerful characters among the union’s, to date, 60 presidents who have helped shape Scottish farming. As Mr Arbuckle said when signing copies: “One of the most difficult decisions was which parts were significant and which were only matters of the moment.”

That’s true of every history whether of a single life, a family, a union or a country. Some events that seemed momentous at the time become footnotes, or almost forgotten. At time of writing it’s difficult to know which category the present CAP debate will fall into.