During the plenary debate, Mr Agnew challenged Commissioner Dacian Ciolos to give a straight answer on this issue. “We don’t feel you answered the question Commissioner. There are many people in Britain who have land in environmental schemes. It may occupy 1% of their farm land. What they want to know is will this 1% count toward the 7% greening you intend to bring in or will the 7% of greening be additional to the 1% they have already put in? As these schemes last five years, many farmers are having to renew this year and they need to know.“
Responding, Mr Ciolos said: “What we have suggested will not have an impact on existing contracts which farmers are already involved in for their Rural Development Programme.” He went on to confirm that farmers who have planted trees around areas of vegetation which are not for crop production will find that these areas of land “will be included in the 7% and will enable the farmer to continue to enjoy that specific support in the context of the Rural Development Programme.”
Commenting on the latest announcement from the Commission, Mr Agnew said: “I am pleased that the Commissioner has followed through on the firm commitment he gave me in the European Parliament. It would have been ridiculous and very damaging to the interests of UK farmers for them to be penalised for carrying out the will of the British Government! However, the Commission’s plans for crop rotation are almost equally infuriating and illogical but they don’t seem to be willing to listen to reason. They are interfering with a tried and tested system and will cause chaos. The logistics of growing several crops in the same year on one farm are hugely difficult, uneconomic and don’t actually help the environment. I am continuing to challenge the Commission on it.”
Details of the announcement by Dacian Ciolos are below.
UK GREEN FARMING 'NOT PENALISED'
FARM Conference Subsidies
Feb 21, 2012 4:21:01 PM
By Emily Beament, Press Association Environment Correspondent
The UK will not be "penalised" for championing wildlife-friendly farming under reforms of European policy, the EU's agriculture commissioner said today.
Brussels is keen to make the common agricultural policy "greener" to ensure the billions of pounds of subsidies for agriculture paid across the EU each year is acceptable to taxpayers.
The European Commission has set out plans to make a share of subsidies dependent on leaving 7% of land aside for wildlife, growing three different crops on arable land and ensuring permanent pasture is maintained, to protect countryside across Europe.
UK farmers are concerned that, having invested in much higher levels of wildlife protection under agri-environment schemes which lead the way in Europe, they will be hit by having to meet other, lower standards to gain their payments.
Speaking at the National Farmers' Union conference, agriculture and rural development commissioner Dacian Ciolos said he would look at ways of making existing measures count towards the steps farmers had to take to get their subsidies.
"We obviously don't want to encourage British farmers to do less, to take a step back, but to encourage all farmers in all of Europe to do a minimum of these protections.
"I will look at the possibility of integrating some commitments farmers have in agri-environmental measures, to recognise these kind of commitments as the 'greening'," he said.
Farmers who had trees, hedges and strips of wildflowers planted around fields would not have to put an extra 7% of land on top of that into "set-aside", and those who practised crop rotation would not have to diversify into three crops each year, he suggested.
He recognised that British farmers led the field on wildlife-friendly farming and said: "We are not going to penalise the champions."
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman claimed the move to recognise that existing environmental schemes in the UK could count towards greening measures was a major breakthrough.
UK officials have previously raised concerns that a "one-size-fits-all" policy for environmental measures across Europe will not work and that the "greening" of the common agricultural policy will amount to little more than "greenwash".