Last week, the first in a series of six meetings on the new CAP was held in Asten, a village near Hengelo in the Netherlands.
Last week, the first in a series of six meetings on the new CAP was held in Asten, a village near Hengelo in the Netherlands. The ‘Koersen op Kansen’ (Courses on Opportunities) series, organised by LTO Nederland and the Ministry, once again highlights how far removed the daily round of Dutch farmers is from the general public. Quite apart from the fact that many people have little idea of how their food is made, where it comes from or how it looked before supermarket packaging, there is also the issue of the policy: a many-headed beast that holds the agriculture sector in its grip with its obscure wording and impossible calculations.
The new agriculture policy has far-reaching implications. Hence some fifty regional LTO (the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture) heads attended an introduction and workshop on the new Common Agricultural Policy. The idea is that this series of courses on opportunities, organised by the Ministry and LTO, will enable the regional heads to explain the policy to the rank and file.
For Frans Lammers, veal farmer and expert group leader on rosé veal for the farmers’ union, ZLTO, explaining the policy to others will be no easy task. When I met him before the meeting, he spoke his mind: ‘I wish I could believe in sustainability. But I can’t do it like this. The new policy puts too much emphasis on "nature”’, he says bluntly. ‘Nature is not the same as the environment, you know?’ Frans is quick to explain. ‘The environment is essential: healthy water, soil, air and a healthy climate are a necessity, let’s be clear. But often "nature” is more of a luxury. I mean - saving the last European hamster in the Netherlands doesn’t really improve the environment.’ Nor does Lammers know quite where nature ends and environment begins, but it is clear that he approaches sustainability in agriculture from a different angle.
But the policy will go ahead: policy coordinator Herman Snijders can’t emphasise the point enough. ‘Over the coming years 240 million will be made available for nature management – that’s a fairly substantial amount, especially if one compares it to the amount we could spend on argrarian nature conservation up until now. So let’s see how we can make the best use of it.’ Lammers and the other regional heads are then treated to a complex explanation of how the new policy works and the options and opportunities it presents. Armed with sample calculations and a specially developed ‘CAP-App’ – an application to help them to calculate the financial implications of the new CAP for them – the farmers will soon have to keep their finances in order. It is important, because the differences could add up to tens of thousands of euros a year.
Snijders’ presentation is peppered with curious insights into European politics. For the few outsiders in the room, the overall impression is surreal. Farmers have become calculating entrepeneurs who make cost-benefit analyses of everything while discovering how international politics has reached a decision. But surely they still suck on straws and have to bring the cows home?
But according to Lammers, the popular image of farmers no longer matches the reality. Lammers puts this down to the people themselves. ‘The changes people want depend very much on what they do themselves. But everything changes when they get to the supermarket. Then they are suddenly consumers, you know?’