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Norfolk farmers' concerns over EU common agricultural policy reforms

PUBLISHED: 12:47 28 June 2013 | UPDATED: 12:47 28 June 2013

Alex Dinsdale, NFU Norfolk official

Alex Dinsdale, NFU Norfolk official

submitted

Concerns have been raised over how EU reforms on environmental measures, subsidy frameworks and sugar beet quotas could affect the competitiveness of Norfolk's farmers.

After years of negotiation, a broad political deal was reached on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform in Brussels on Wednesday, although a number of key details remain unresolved.

The agreement laid the framework for a new CAP from 2015, with the principle of making 30pc of direct farm payments dependant on “greening” measures.

Those measures could include the creation of permanent pastures, the setting aside of land as ecological focus areas (EFAs) and crop diversification.

But the detail of how this is implemented will be left up to member states – shifting the uncertainty from a European to a national level.

Speaking to the EDP at the Royal Norfolk Show yesterday, Alex Dinsdale, Norfolk county advisor for the National Farmers’ Union, said the UK government must avoid “gold-plating” the greening measures if they hoped to preserve the viability of Norfolk’s farming businesses.

He also said the NFU wanted to ensure other agreements, such as the end of sugar beet quotes in 2017, did not leave Norfolk farmers disadvantaged against their European competitors.

“It is good that we are starting to get a degree of certainty, but so much of this comes down to how it is going to be implemented at a national level,” he said.

“One of the things we do know is there will be a 30pc of the single farm payment which will be associated with greening measures. We are still waiting to see to see what that will mean.

“One of the key things for us that is that we need Defra to avoid ‘gold-plating’ these greening measures.

“Agri-environment schemes at the moment are entirely voluntary and those schemes are very popular with farmers. This is where we have got a great problem. There is a great deal of uncertainty as to what will happen to those voluntary schemes and, if we have mandatory greening, experience shows that if you force people to do something you don’t always get the benefits that you would if you encourage them into a voluntary scheme.”

Mr Dinsdale said the end of sugar beet quotas in 2017, three years earlier than the NFU had lobbied for, was another “significant issue” for Norfolk growers.

“It is going to take careful management as to how the sugar beet industry manages this change,” he said. “Britain lacks the capacity in terms of sugar beet processing to react to these limits being removed. As soon as these quotas go, our competitors in other parts of Europe are in a position to step up production quite rapidly, and that could leave Norfolk sugar beet growers at a disadvantage.”

Farmers can put their questions on CAP reform to an NFU expert at an event at Morley Farms at 6pm on July 18. To book, contact 01638 672100 or meetingsea@nfu.org.uk.

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