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Lords and green groups call for an end to farm subsidies; Public money should be targeted directly at environmental benefits.

Byline: Steve Dube Farming Editor

PRESSURE is growing for farm support payments to be replace with a scheme that will pay to protect the environment an encourage "sustainable" food production

A coalition of environmental groups and the House of Lords European Union Committee called for direct payments to farmers under the current EU Common Agricultural Policy to be phased out because they are an "inefficient" way of ensuring sustainable agriculture.

The Wildlife and Countryside Link's farming and rural development group chairman Ian Woodhurst said a new way should be found to pay for environment management that would ensure secure supplies of food as well as a beautiful countryside, rich in wildlife and historic assets.

"We find there just isn't enough money to reward farmers for the countryside management they undertake," he said.

"Producing food and looking after our environment should be one and the same thing."

In its report Beyond the Pillars the coalition, which includes the Council for National Parks, the National Trust and the RSPB said the change would make sure that the CAP created profitable rural businesses and communities.

The CAP is currently composed of two "pillars" - Pillar One for direct farm support and Pillar Two for rural development.

The report comes just days after the UK Government's new chief scientific adviser, Professor John Beddington, warned that future food shortages were the "elephant in the room", with farmers potentially having to produce more food with less land and less water.

Professor Beddington said research to increase the efficiency of agricultural production was critical in the face of a rising population and the impacts of climate change.

But last week the House of Lords European Union committee also called for a phased reduction of subsidies to farmers an landowners from 2014, after the current CAP expires.

In its report The Future of the Common Agricultural Policy the committee said much of the cash freed up by the cuts should be used to tackle the broader problems faced by Europe's rural areas, such as unemployment.

The committee said direct farm subsidies were a poorly focused instrument for social, economic, and environmental policies.

"The CAP is in need of fundamental restructuring," said committee chairman Lord Sewel.

"While encouraging progress has been made in removing the link between farm subsidies an production that has had such perverse consequences in the past there is no long-term justification for maintaining farm subsidies in their present form.

"They distort markets for agricultural products and land, an are poorly adapted to the needs of rural communities."

Lord Sewel, the former Labour MP who is now Scottish agriculture minister, said farming interests could no longer be equate with rural interests.

"Public money should be targeted directly at environmental benefits and rural development goals, rather than being spent o income support for farmers an landowners in the hope that this will produce the desired knock-o effects," he said.

"Global demand for agricultural products has soared and is likely to continue rising.

"It is therefore essential to get rid of the remaining production-linked subsidies which distort farmers' decisions about what t produce, and prevent them from seizing market opportunities as they arise."

He said the global demand for agricultural products is likely to accelerate, and the distorting effect of subsidies - some of which remain linked to specific products in parts of Europe - will prevent the farming industry from responding to, and profiting from, changes in market conditions.

Bernard Llewellyn, chairman of NFU Cymru's rural affairs board, said a significant proportion of the Single Farm Payment in Wales and the rest of the UK is already modulated and redirected towards the CAP Pillar 2 - rural development measures.

"By 2014, Wales will see voluntary rates of modulation of 6.5% set by the Welsh Assembly Government in addition to the compulsory EU rate, currently of 5%," said Mr Llewellyn.

"The Lords report also appears to have ignored the fact that both statutory management requirements and good agricultural an environmental conditions are already attached to the receipt of SFP. So there are very real public benefits."

Mr Llewellyn said the farming industry in Wales had already made "huge strides" in environmental terms, with large swathes of Wales committed to agri-environment schemes such as Tir Gofal and Tir Cynnal or under official designation.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 11, 2008
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