Party Political Views on the Environment – elections 2016
Do you think Pillar 1 of the CAP is delivering significant environmental benefits for the taxpayer? Are there any ways in which you and your Party would seek to reform CAP and the way in which it is administered in Wales to deliver improved environmental outcomes and public benefits?
The CAP presents many opportunities that would bring environmental benefits, and a Plaid Cymru government would seek new and creative ways to fully capitalise on this potential.
Improving the efficiency of production, and the profitability of farming in a sustainable manner – the aims of Pillar 1 – can contribute to many of the objectives under climate change mitigation; both in terms of reducing greenhouse gasses through the adoption of new technologies and techniques, and in playing a significant part in the management of carbon sinks such as woodlands and wetlands. By thinking more creatively about our land management, it is possible to make even more of these opportunities and bring even greater benefit to both Welsh agriculture and the wider public alike.
The example set by Pontbren project in mid-Wales demonstrates not only the integral role of farmers as custodians of the countryside, but also that a little innovation to our land management strategies can radically enhance the quality of water, soil, and biodiversity.
Conducted by a group of neighbouring farmers over the course of ten years Pontbren planted a total of 120,000 new trees, and 16.5km of hedges. Planting shelterbelts of trees not only captured surface run-off from pasture lands and helped to regulate the peak flows of the local river basin, but also proved to be an important boost to soil quality, created wildlife corridors and helped improve local biodiversity. What’s more, the project also had a positive financial impact for the participating farmers!
The undoubted success of the Pontbren Project in agricultural, economic, and environmental terms is testament to the opportunities that such a policy offers, and provides a well-tested model that a Plaid Cymru government, if elected, would look to introduce to all areas of Wales.
We believe that all farmers should have access to agri-environmental schemes to encourage and reward positive environmental management and protection. In order to encourage even greater participation, a Plaid Cymru government will ensure that a part farm scheme, open to all farmers and involving minimum bureaucracy is made available, and will work with the industry to develop innovative ways in which RDP funded agri-environment measures such as Glastir can help deliver greater public benefits.
Within the CAP, there is ample opportunity to improve the agricultural sector’s resource efficiency and environmental performance. Current debate on so-called simplification should not target the greening measures themselves – on the contrary, these efforts to integrate environmental considerations into agriculture were largely watered down, and subject to many exemptions. Rather, we should ensure an improved efficiency in the methods by which competent authorities monitor these vital requirements and enforce them. Environmental considerations should not and need not imply additional burdens on farmers. Further, the Commission needs to improve its communication, not only on the actual content of requirements, but also on their very purpose – the benefits which they will bring in ensuring sustainable agriculture.
Within pillar 1, strong cross-compliance and greening ought to ensure high environmental and animal and public health standards throughout EU agriculture. Ensuring their effective implementation is therefore a valuable use of taxpayers’ money – recognising here that farmers too are taxpayers, consumers and beneficiaries of a healthy environment. Alongside existing cross-compliance requirements such as those for Natura 2000, there is still scope for the further legislation to be integrated, such as the Water Framework Directive, Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive and animal welfare legislation. Such standards are often nothing new to farmers, but they nevertheless require a greater integration and coherence.
The intended benefits of these standards must be better communicated to farmers. Training and knowledge transfer is a means to this end – yet transfers away from Pillar 2 funding have compromised these measures. An excessive concern over error rates distracts from the fact that compliance is only meaningful for sustainable agriculture and society when its standards are robust. There needs to be better monitoring and analysis of whether and, if so, how greening measures are bringing the environmental benefits they were intended to. This would clarify the link between the farm practices encouraged through cross compliance and greening, their control, and their desired outcomes.
In particular, once farmers understand the benefits to their livelihoods and to the environment that such standards ensure, they are often enthusiastic. Recent examples seen in Green MEP Molly Scott Cato’s office: a conference on sustainable agriculture in which farmers were requesting 2 extra cross-compliance measures to boost soil quality, and a meeting in which conservation NGOs reported how enthusiastic farmers are in conducting biodiversity surveys on their land.
The demands on farmers’ time could in many cases be greatly relieved through improved interoperability of databases and better use of data, reducing the number/duration of on-site checks. However, many competent authorities lack funding or the will of their political masters to make such improvements possible. We’ve seen that this is a familiar issue in the UK.
Reform of CAP:
Finally, the two-pillar system is inhibiting a change in mindset regarding the CAP. Firstly, payments are not by right; they ought to be accorded in exchange for public goods. Secondly, the lack of a ceiling for basic payments and limited degressivity means that the CAP is still biased in favour of industrial-scale agriculture, rather than smaller-scale farmers and the biodiversity they can bring. Schemes such as the Small Farmers Scheme remain optional. With this in mind, the CAP should move towards a system wherein all payments are based on the environmental benefits which agriculture can ensure.
Concrete changes needed to begin this reform – lowering the minimum no. of hectares required to receive Basic Payment, to encourage small-scale and young farmers; and returning the Entry Level Scheme to its former popularity – this used to enjoy participation of over 75% of farmers in UK, who received payment for environmentally-beneficial changes.
Relevant policy areas:
AGR545 Wales Green Party will work towards replacing the Common Agricultural Policy, and while it still exists, support a radical reorientation of the CAP to support sustainable farming systems that protect and enhance wildlife habitats and biodiversity, ensure fair and secure farm incomes, support habitats and thriving rural communities and promote regional and local self-reliance in food
UKIP did not reply to our letter.
The latest Welsh Government CAP reforms saw a transfer of 15 per cent from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 (direct payments to farmers, and rural development fund respectively). A transfer of 15% is the highest in Europe and we believe any constructive change announced by the CAP reform is severely outweighed by this, leaving Wales at a competitive disadvantage in the market place. Welsh Conservatives would not have transferred 15 per cent and would have ensured that Welsh farmers are adequately supported. Welsh Conservatives support calls for a mid-term review of CAP in 2017. We will work with our UK Government colleagues to generate a fairer deal for farmers and reduce the 15 per cent modulation rate. Through my regional constituency office in Denbigh I continue to support farmers in their claims for a timely and full payment from CAP funds. As a party we are keen to work with farming representatives to try and improve the present system of application processes and payments.
The decisions we have already taken as regards CAP will underpin investment in the rural economy through the Rural Development Plan. This will also continue the process of reform for the agricultural sector. We believe that forestry has further potential for integrated land and water management, and the economy of Wales.
The broad answer to the first question is yes. We have seen the largest transfer of funds to Pillar 2 at 15%, and the remaining Pillar 1 is essential to retaining the presence of our farmers to till the soil. It is worth remembering that we have inherited the natural landscape that we enjoy today from our forefathers and has been shaped largely as a result of agricultural intervention. Both Pillars of the CAP are of course completely contingent on the UK voting to remain in the EU, and that must be a huge priority both for the agricultural community – but also crucially the environmental sector – in the coming months. It is our view that no case has been made for a further shift beyond 15% into Pillar 2, and our party is calling for a comprehensive review of agri-environment schemes so as to ensure a maximum return on that funding and with the best possible benefits to the environment and the Welsh tax payer.