Tax Money To Pay For Crops?

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Breaking news from DEFRA: flowers are good for pollinators

So DEFRA has announced details on how CAP payments will be reformed and ‘greened’ in the UK. My first thought is that all this dull CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) talk has nothing to do with me since I don’t get any subsidies anyway (even if I did want to claim them, since thanks to DEFRA, only those working on over 5ha of land will be eligible for subsidy payments, because of course anything smaller than that is a ‘hobby’ and not a serious business at all. Grrr). However, of course is it relevant to me because a) I pay tax just like everybody else, and therefore the often-quoted figure of £400/person/year spent on CAP budgets applies to me. Plus b) despite what DEFRA says, I do work in the agricultural industry and my business is in fact a real, live, breathing business and not a hobby, can you believe it Owen Patterson?

So therefore I did cock an ear at the headlines over the CAP reform, and had sympathy with a) farmers who are trying to get as much money from the CAP as their European counterparts do; but more so with b) consumers (ie everyone), who think it’s a bit rich (!) that farmers could be paid for growing a cash crop of peas or beans, which they will be then be paid for again. I could easily take the position that EU tax money must not be used to subsidise food crops for agri-business (like it seems to be in the US), when that could mean that crops from larger farms eligible for subsidies can therefore undercut me – and when I’ve helped by putting money in the tax pot for them to do just that.

However, weirdly what really rankles is that the logic used to explain why peas and beans will be allowed under the subsidy scheme is that they are legumes, and therefore fix nitrogen into the soil. Yes, indeed they are; but although I’m no soil scientist, even I can see that the amount of N fixed by a short-lived cash crop over part of a seaon which is then harvested (ie all that N in the plants is removed and taken elsewhere) could be negative or at best miniscule when compared to a green manure/ley crop such as a clover mix, left in situ and mulched back down into the soil. I think I heard one commentator say that ‘peas and beans have flowers, which are also good for pollinators’. Yes, that’s right, well done, as are (pretty much) all flowering plants, especially those in, oh, I don’t know, a MIXED wildflower meadow, or a MIXED green manure ley; rather than another monoculture. Nice to see that these DEFRA farming guys really know what they are about.

All the other measures listed as options for those wanting to claim subsidies (planting hedges, leaving fallow land, using catch and cover crops) are also fundamental to organic agriculture. Surely a much MUCH better use of tax payers’ money would be to simply fund farmers and growers who wanted to become organically certified, ie grants to cover the conversion fees? The Welsh Government is helping to fund those wanting to convert in Wales, presumably because it recognises the benefits of organic practices – which all starts with soil care (and therefore water usage, carbon emissions, increased biodiversity…). So come on Owen, bite the bullet, ignore the anti-organic, pro-chemical lobby, and please spend our money wisely, rather than encouraging bad farming practices and setting us on the road to putting sustainable smaller holdings out of business.

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