Get to know the CAP through arable farmer Adrie Bossers.
By Janno Lanjouw
The imminent changes in the Common Agricultural Policy have been a reality for some time for people in the sector. People outside the sector however have no idea. At the third meeting in a series of six, organized by the Dutch ministry of agriculture and LTO Nederland to clarify the implications of the policy reforms for Dutch farmers, I talked to Adrie Bossers, an arable farmer who is ready for the changeover.
One of the key concepts in the new CAP is "targeting” of funds. The intention is to reward desirable services such as the protection of flora and fauna, the landscape or biodiversity. Agriculture subsidies which were previously linked simply to production or land area, are now directed more towards things like ‘cows in the pasture’, "space for nature” and ‘crop diversification’ (good for biodiversity!).
Adrie Bossers, an arable farmer in Langeweg starts off sounding like a government spokesman: ‘Agriculture is not just a matter of producing food; it’s also about peace, space and a biotope for flora and fauna. That is why it’s crucial to think more about working safely and sustainably. And that’s why I feel quite positive about the changes in the CAP’. The contrast with my meeting with veal farmer Hans Lammers earlier this week could hardly be greater.
Lammers was not so keen on the emphasis on nature conservation in the new CAP. This is because he thinks the concept of "nature” is often badly explained. But the fact that veal farmers will be considerably worse off under the new CAP will undoubtedly (and rightly) also have played a role.
Arable farmers are far less troubled by the new policy, and arable farmers like Bossers actually like it. ‘I have a small 60-hectare farm with 1/7 potatoes, 1/7 sugar beet, 1/7 miscellaneous – sometimes herbs, sometimes beans or other crops for canning, 1/7 onions, 1/7 grass seed and 2/7 wheat seed’, Bossers ticks them off. With this mix he already easily complies with the new greening provisions requiring him to grow at least three crops (‘on at least 5%, and at most 70% of the arable area’).
Bossers explains: ‘In the mid-70s there was a crucial change in the Dutch agriculture system. Up till then food production was close to people’s hearts. But mounting labour costs, mechanisation, and changes in society that saw people being less willing to cope with the inconveniences of living close to agricultural production, led to the dawn of "cost-price thinking”: the farmer who could produce at the lowest price was considered the best. This way of thinking somewhat overshot its target with all manner of adverse effects. That is why we now need to use the CAP to pay for services that good agriculture provides, but which can’t be sold. For example, groundwater protection, or maintaining biodiversity. For me this is where the European agricultural policy gets its legitimacy: in relation to other major agricultural policies, such as the Farm Bill in the USA, European policy shows more concern for "socially responsible products”.
But even Bossers agrees with veal farmer Lammers about the serious lack of understanding between farmers and the general public, and the fact that as soon as they become consumers, people are suddenly less committed to sustainability. ‘Agriculture nowadays is detached from wider public opinion. If we could achieve a better balance between environmental citizenship and consumerism, this trend could be reversed.’
Also published on www.foodpolitics.eu