The issue with the Status Quo
Many people in rural communities found the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) both restrictive and creating unintended distortions to agriculture production across the EU.
Problematically, every country was treated similarly. Therefore, UK compliance with CAP treated the UK as a homogenous whole. Thus CAP did not recognise regional variations. Subsequently, farming in the West Country was treated the same as say dairy farming in the North of England. Ultimately, there was no recognition of regional challenges as a one size fits all philosophy was applied.
Despite its problems the CAP did provide member states with cash to support its agricultural production.
With the removal of the CAP the government has committed to match funding until 2022. Beyond that point, however funding is not certain.
Consequently, local Exmoor farming groups have discussed and developed a possible framework for going forward. Thus, Exmoor Ambition is a collaboration between the Exmoor Hill Farmers Network and Exmoor National Park. Together, they are proposing a simpler, more integrated and locally accountable policy which incentivises all the public benefits provided by the countryside.
In their view this would be delivered through a single locally-delivered scheme which:
- Has the concept of natural capital at its heart
- Is driven by results and evidence of what works
- Uses trust and co-operation to replace regulation and form-filling
- Encourages new thinking, especially from the next generation
- Is co-designed and delivered by farmers and land managers
Additionally, these measures would be matched by branding and promotion of goods and services from the Exmoor countryside to secure a premium income for their producers.
Ultimately, delivery through a team of farm liaison officers, and processes of peer review and continuous learning, would result in more effective and lower administrative costs.
Needless to say that the Exmoor Ambition integrates the UK Government’s 25 year plan for Exmoor into its approach.
Under the CAP, farmers were not incentivised for farming in a manner consistent with their environment. For example, having water features such as lakes on their farmland were not financially beneficial.
Therefore, Exmoor Ambition’s plan is to recognise the local environment in which farming is undertaken and to develop plans that work in harmony with that environment.
Consequently, this component of the scheme is referred to as Good Farming Measures. Basically, these Measures “will work by incentivising the systems of farming and woodland management that, de facto, provide key public goods and services. It will reverse the flaw in the current Basic Payment Scheme that penalises farmers for creating non- agricultural habitats and features.” (quote from Exmoor Ambition)
Thus, these Good Farming Measures will be incorporated into annual Good Farming Agreements with the emphasis on:-
- A register of natural and cultural capital that exists on the land.
- Payments for environmental land management, to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural capital.
- Knowledge sharing,
- Adoption of best practice.
Interestingly, the precedent for the Exmoor Ambition scheme is the Dartmoor Farming Futures Scheme. Similarly, this is another farmer led, outcomes-focused approach, to design the agricultural management of moorland. In addition, the team have also looked at Irish and Dutch schemes.
Exmoor Ambition recognises that the CAP was the same sledgehammer trying to crack a range of different types of nut across Europe. Realising, that Brexit will mean the removal of CAP and thus creating a void in terms of fiscal support, Exmoor Ambition have proactively sought to frame a solution.
Noting that the challenges of the CAP, Exmoor Ambition are translating a nationally applied problematic solution into a series of replicable local plans that are tailored to their local environment.
Can the departure from the EU lead to more specific devolved solutions for other industries that address local concerns and contribute to the national good?