Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Agriculture: Europe's Common Agriculture Policy five years after reform

Source: European Parliament

Milk lakes and butter mountains may be a thing of the past, but how is Europe's Common Agriculture Policy doing five years after it was last reformed? Much has changed since 2003, most notably the addition of 12 new members. The aim then was to move it towards rural development and environmental issues. Following MEPs “health check” of the CAP in Strasbourg last week, we asked the rapporteur, German Christian Democrat and agricultural engineer Lutz Goepel, to fill us in.

If European agriculture is a patient, is it in better shape than it was five years ago?

The patient looks healthier. Whether he is actually better, only the coming years will show. But agriculture has developed well, especially the economic side of things.

Farmers have more freedom in their decisions. Aid payments are no longer connected to the product. This did away with much regimentation. Some new, useful requirements were introduced, which mean that the aid to farmers is linked to meeting quality criteria and to benefits for society at large.

Yet, as someone who’s been married to a country doctor for over 40 years I know that things aren't always as good as they look. European agriculture is on a good path but there are still some issues we have to resolve, for example we have to make sure at European level that imported goods are of the same quality as European produce.

We also need to regain customer confidence in farm products. Problems that we have seen in the past (food scandals like BSE, rotten meat etc) were not caused by farmers but by processing industries, however, farmers suffered.

A few years ago nobody would have recommended young people choose a career in agriculture. How do things look today?

Well in my region (East Germany) it is very difficult to get a place as an apprentice in agriculture because so many young people want to go into it. That’s also due to technical developments. When you have to use a combine harvester steered by GPS you need people that have done well at school. So we need smart people in agriculture.

Of course the situation is structurally different in different European countries,for example in Southern Europe farmers are on average older than in say France, the Netherlands or Germany.
Why does Europe need to produce its own food, couldn’t we import it all?

We have to ensure food security for our population. For years we had a surplus of grain and stocks of some 17 million tons. We no longer have those stocks. We, and others like the US, have given farmers the option to produce plants for energy. So, some land and corn production is no longer used for food. We will see food become a precious commodity and grain prices change along with the price of oil.