There was a feeling of frustration towards UK agriculture’s relationship with the EU. Many voiced their concerns over membership but ceded that having Europe onside with the industry was the more appropriate stance.
Important benefits were cited as subsidies and free trade with other member states, with the detractors claiming more money is put in than comes back out, in terms of pure financial input versus return, and also inordinate amounts of red tape and hoop-jumping.
It was reasoned that a UK government out of the EU would allow support to migrate to the environmental perspective, and that small family farms would be hit hardest in the long run. Others argued that constant changing of agricultural ministers detracts from the real agenda which should be about driving research and development, and taking advantage of a wealthy consumer base on our European doorsteps.
The EU was described like “an older brother that can override decisions that you should be making yourself”; but ultimately the CAP’s role in maintaining social cohesion across member states by promoting dialogue and allowing trade has granted the EU an important role in UK agriculture nonetheless.
It has its benefits, but indeed is still a long way from a fair playing field.
The discussion held on Thursday 2nd May 2013 looked at the topic of “The EU Hokey-Cokey: In or Out for Agriculture?” and generated a total of 342 tweets on the topic from 67 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.
Q1 Very general: Are you a Eurosceptic, a Europhile or sat on the fence? Why?
- If I wasn’t a farmer I would be happy out of Europe but I think UK agriculture is better off with Europe on our side
- Pro Europe for trade and free market. EU is our home.
- On the fence, because UK is a net ‘giver’ into the EU, but our agri-exports need EU subsidies to compete on a global level
- I find myself jumping over the fence and standing on either side
- EU has benefits but long way from fair playing field
- Europe, sir, is not on “our” side. It has its own federalist agenda
- Eurosceptic. Expensive club with dubious benefits
- World can no longer afford jingoism, so largely in favour. For agri, better in than out, I think.
- I am a Europhile entirely happy to “belong” to the “family”. But I expect to be allowed to decide to what extent
- Definitely pro euro, we’re in, should be at top table not bleating from the sidelines
Q2 What are the positive and negative things about the UK being in the EU that affect your farm?
- Most important EU benefits have to be free trade with other member states, subsidies and then tariffs on imports to EU
- The plus is regulation of agriculture on a continent wide basis. Dilutes the influence of Westminster metrosexuals.
- I was at the ‘Future of Food and Farming in Ireland’ conference recently and all anyone wanted to talk about was CAP
- Greatest cost is that we put more in than we get out (in pure financial input v return) plus costly red tape and hoop-jumping
- Without the EU I think we’d find our industry & probably country in a bigger mess than it is now. Gov would strangle farmers
- The EU is like an older brother that can override decisions that you should be making yourself
- Highly sceptical: euro agri policy is unfair to farmers: creating barriers to farm business development & adaptation
- CAP has maintained social cohesion by stabilising rural popn, it has promoted dialogue and prevented conflict
- Biggest disadvantage EU anti science stance & a CAP heading in the wrong direction
- While people remain unwilling to pay a fair price for the true cost of food, the EU and the CAP are lifeline for farming
- The bottom line is: We can produce food because of where we live on the planet and we should share that privilege
Q3 How stringently do you think the UK enforce EU rules in comparison to others? What evidence is there?
- The sow stall ban and caged eggs would suggest not!
- Only 10 countries, with 12% of EU pigs, complied with EU pig welfare changes by 1 Jan
- Gold plates rules every time, govts seems to apply own agenda to rules to reduce support where possible
- Northern states do southern states variable. Italy & milk quota’s indicative
- Member states should agree a fixed implementation date with penalties for states who won’t make changes on time e.g. sow stalls
- They will enforce but they conform slowly to the majority, as in battery cage and sow stall reform
- Suspect UK more conscientious than most at enforcing EU rules, but not a reason for being in or out of the EU
- Generally clearer “black & white” in UK (and some others MSs). EU enforcement slow and reluctant.
- I’m pro-EU for agriculture’s sake, but UK needs to speak up louder and fight its corner against the Eurozone
- Here in Brussels, a lot of farmers say ‘we do this and everyone else doesn’t.’ A familiar refrain…whatever the country!
- Too many variations in enforcement not just with member states but also local councils
- Political economics of trading with China mean EU has greater influence than any single european nationstate
- I can remember the late 90’s my Italian friends just starting to deal with milk quotas 14yrs late
Q4a David Cameron made a speech about ‘re-negotiating relationship with Europe.’ What do you think this should mean for farming?
- Disaster imho I would not trust him to tie a shoelace
- I doubt agriculture was even on the list when he was thinking about agriculture
- Most likely bad news, Tories like free markets & less subsidy but free market Agric will lead to massive eu social upheaval
- Cameron should relinquish the rebate
- It will mean nothing & amount to nothing , changing Ag minister hasn’t helped. Fr & D drive agenda
- The euro shows how disastrous one size fits all can be. How can we influence Ag in the EU when Westminster is so weak on it?
- Cameron’s bid to re-claim so-called lost powers have nothing to do with agriculture, which would end up the biggest loser
Q4b Norway and Switzerland as seen as good models. Does anyone have any experience of how they do or don’t support farmers?
- Wife worked in Switzerland. The level control and tax would rapidly drive us daft. Dozens more rules regs and taxes
- The Isle of Man is not part of the EU – but we still have to follow all their rules. No rules – No trade
- I understand each has agri-support and the rules reflect the need to trade with EU hence are heavily influenced
Q5 CAP is important. What would your business look like without support? Which sectors would fare best + worst?
- It would probably take out working capital requirement, drive efficient market lead farming
- I know, I’ve got one. Lean mean, ruthless cost control. Focused on profitable investment
- Our beef sheep pigs do well without sub. Best use of land is renewables tho.
- Disagree. Take away SPS from beef & sheep, esp in uplands, and significant impact on farm income
- If support went across Europe I believe here in UK we would be in better posn , if support stays rest Europe we are done for
- Suspect if no CAP EU wide then uk dairy would have been better off but some MS would most likely support their own farms
- Seems ironic at time when talk of cutting SPS, Scotland returns to headage payment on cattle
Q6 CAP was worth £3.2bn in 2012. Without it, how would you expect UK govt to support farming? What would that support look like?
- UK government out of EU would seize opportunity to slash farming subsidy, hitting small family farms hardest. No question!
- Environment schemes might be supported but I think they would embrace no support as ultimately better as the market will deliver
- Support would migrate to environmental function only. Certainly no French approach to stocks & food supply
- Scot + Welsh would look after farmers by means of headage payments. English by means of wildlife protection!
- Farmers are going to feed future generations and we are blessed by living in an ideal place to carry that out
Q7 EU is a market of 500m people. What opportunities do you think Europe creates for your farm, and the sector you operate in?
- For export spec Texel x lambs every time.
- Export mkts on doorstep. Clout when it comes to free trade deals for further afield. UK outside EU doesn’t have similar pull
- Wealthy consumer base on the doorstep, tightening global supply, wider marketing options
- Opportunities for UK organic farmers to export following continued EU organic expansion
- Why not brand texel like angus and hereford, huge potential for food branding in Europe
- We are an Island; we should stand on our own in Europe and I believe that we should lead the way!
- Might struggle to have exportable surplus in 2013 though. But wheat exports a success story over long term
- EU+NAfrica mkts export outlet for UK (Sth/East) milling wheat surpluses tho’ not after last yr harvest
- Rising middle classes & demands 4higher wages in developing countries + rising transport costs may make EU market more important
- Opportunities for organics exports are massive the higher the unit value the commodity the easier it travels
Q8 There is a need to drive innovation for the future in agriculture. Does the EU help or hinder this and how?
- CAP does encourage LCD.
- Look at the way Neonicotinoids has been handled or the area of GM. Hopeless
- Best it could do, in my opinion, would be to raise the bar & sustain thoroughly researched hybrid conv. org. agri
- Innovation is down to individual inspiration and ambition, EU supports and frustrates, it’s a bureacracy like any other!
- The EU cannot make decisions without political interference & yet there is no responsibility for the actions.
- Innovative people will be innovative. Overcoming barriers is part of that, EU or no EU
- Rural devt pot can fund some good things, but UK gets smallest share of funds
- Ciolos certainly is not helping progress & his reforms lack real focus. Lisbon Treaty has made things worse
- We’re not very decisive as a country, just look at all the time wasted arguing over tb whilst the problem spreads…
- Big budget under CAP for research and development but of course comes down to member states as to how that money accessed/spent!
- No G.M, large number of principle actives under threat. EU is killing agriculture slowly
Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 7 May 2013