The EU does not pay non-farmers not to farm

If you can follow the above title without your head spinning, get thee to a physician, for there must be something wrong with your head. Alternatively, proceed directly to stage two of the current competition for a European Commission staff post.

The title is my response to an article by the Times’ Chief Political Correspondent (not Agricultural Correspondent!), Anthony Browne. This was published over a week ago, but has only just come to my attention via Johan Norberg’s blog.

Johan titles his three-line blog “Now it’s getting really interesting”. Well, yes, I guess it would be really interesting if it were true. But it’s not.

European agriculture is in an almighty mess, and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) an utter farce, but it’s as well to get the facts right when attacking the system.

As John Howe from Wincanton – one of the commenters on the Times article – points out, the decoupling of subsidies from the land to which they relate is designed to eliminate the practice of growing stuff simply in order to get subsidies. Whether the policy works, or can ever work, is debatable, but the previous situation could not continue. Without a consensus for radical change among senior EU member-state politicians, I’m really not sure how much more we can expect.

Another Times commenter, J Kellaway from Bern, explains that the trading of Single Farm Payment (SFP) entitlements is a consequence of the way in which the UK’s agriculture ministry DEFRA (Department for the Elimination of Farming and Rural Affairs) operates the SFP system. Step forward Mrs Rosa Klebb, a.k.a. Margaret Beckett, former Agriculture Secretary and now Foreign Secretary.

Note to Iraqi farmers: If Mrs Klebb comes to visit and offers agricultural advice, just make her a nice cup of tea and smile sweetly.

Although anyone can in theory buy entitlements, the requirements of agricultural subsidy recipients are onerous, and the holders must show that they are actually using the land for agricultural purposes, and adding value to it.

I’ve never farmed myself, but I have lived in farming communities, and know what farmers have to put up with from local to EU level. And from what I’ve seen, it’s no wonder there are so many alcoholics, clinical depressives and, I’m sad to say, suicides among farming folk.

I suspect that this silly story has been spun by brokers. If anyone’s going to make a killing in this market, it is these shysters. The brokers know that nothing will happen to the CAP until 2012 at least, so they can use this to try and convince investors that it’s a good short-term bet. But if townies with wads of cash see entitlement trading as a sound investment, then they need their heads examining.

A truly free market in agriculture would be great, but with farmers as slaves to the food retailer masters’ cartel and agriculture ministries, it ain’t going to happen. There are those with a vested interest in preserving the CAP in its current form in perpetuity, but mostly they do not drive muddy Landrovers, wear wellington boots and chew grass. Nor do they live in Brussels. Try looking a little closer to home.

The farmer is your friend.