The local newspaper had an article yesterday about farmers' concerns regarding recent national budget cuts to grants made through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP, or PAC if you are French). France has the most land under agriculture of any of the EU countries, so the CAP is particularly important here. Local farmers union members called an on-farm meeting with our local representatives in the National Assembly to get their point across.
The 'disadvantaged' southern Touraine countryside.
The farm near Sepmes that they meet on runs dairy cattle and grows grain which is used to feed the stock on farm. The farmer is a young woman of 30 who is in the process of buying the business from her former boss, an older farmer who is retiring. The hand over period is three years. The farm is 60 ha with 70 dairy cows and maize cultivation, partly irrigated. Under new rules just announced the new owner will not receive €6500 that she had hitherto been expecting as a grant to aid the transition. In addition, there has been a major redefining of agricultural areas considered to be 'disadvantaged' and she will lose nearly as much because of being recategorised.
A local dairy farm (photo courtesy of my father).
The reason for the budget cuts at a national level are because of an EU decision to shift 4.2% of the CAP budget from direct farm payments to the more general aim of 'rural development'. These two types of payment are known as the 'twin pillars' of the CAP. In the past the direct farm payments have been aimed particularly at supporting the markets and protecting the incomes of farmers. The new focus is looking more towards the environment and farmers are having a hard time swallowing it. The farmers union is at pains to point out that it is not just graziers who will lose out, but, for example, a cereal farmer with 150 ha will lose €1300 a year under the reforms. The farmers are also not happy about the new boundaries outlining the disadvantaged areas. The Touraine du Sud (that's us and the area around Loches) is 'disadvantaged' but the Sainte Maure plateau (where Sepmes is) is not.
Typical local cereal farms.
The reforms have been pushed back a year and the farmers are determined to make the most of the repreve. But the clock is ticking. One dairy farmer pointed out that when he started out there were ten dairy farmers in the immediate area. Five of them remain today and there will be no more than three in six months time.
Barley is widely grown.
On one level I sympathise deeply with these farmers. I know they have long term plans that have been scuppered by this change in government policy and they are struggling to see a way forward. But the truth is the CAP direct farm payments are a really blunt instrument. Essentially farmers are paid for just owning the land, and the more they have the bigger the grant they receive. My local organic market gardeners and orchardists have very little land, and receive very little in the way of EU grants. On the other hand, the big cereal farmers are getting tens of thousands every year, and choosing to ignore the environmental damage they are causing.
Modern agricultural practice is having a huge impact on our environment. It ruins soil quality (by heavy machinery and deep tillage), water quality (by runoff of pesticides and excess nutrients) and air quality (by creating a toxic mix of ammonia from manure and diesel fumes). The CAP is currently not set up to adequately deal with these issues. Something must change, and farmers must be incentivised to change how they do things.