The spring months of 2015 will live long in the memory of agricultural consultants/advisors due to the deadlines for submitting applications for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) 2015 and the new GLAS agri-environmental scheme. Again consultants and advisors delivered on behalf of farmers after burning the midnight oil for weeks on end in fear of missing the dreaded deadlines for their clients. This was no mean feat given the short time span available, IT technical glitches, the ever changing terms and conditions and simply the sheer volume of work to get through. It is easy to get into the blame game and point the finger at The EU Commission, The Minister, The Department of Agriculture Food and Marine staff or even farmers themselves for letting everything to the last minute but this is not the answer.
It is time to have a fresh look at the rollout of direct payments, schemes and agricultural advice. There is an ideal opportunity with Phil Hogan as European Commissioner for Agriculture and Minister Simon Coveney’s vast experience in the area having successfully negotiated the CAP deal, to propose and implement a better way. It was Ireland’s BPS proposal which The EU adopted in the recent CAP reform so why not be proactive and make a suggestion to reform the rollout of direct payments, schemes and agricultural advice before the next reform.
Advisory contact with farmers across the EU is the key to knowledge transfer. It is often difficult to get farmers to engage in adopting new technology but it is very clear that farmers are motivated by direct payments and schemes. The way the current system operates across the EU there is little or no time for interaction between consultant/advisor and farmer when applying for these schemes. Over ambitious deadlines and companies now specialising in ‘form filling’ with little or no advisory expertise is the history of recent campaigns. This is a major flaw in the system especially with the renewed interest in knowledge transfer by the EU Commission in the most recent CAP reform.
The system for applying for direct payments and schemes should at least be spread out across an entire 12month period or even more radically an application completed to cover the full 5 years of the CAP reform. This application could be updated throughout the period on a farm or office advisory visit with the farmer’s consultant/advisor. In fact the direct payments could be linked to the uptake of technology such as genomic testing for breeding, grass measuring, financial budgeting etc. or whatever measure a member state deems necessary for it’s country or region.
Ultimately the whole EU CAP system of support is about contact with and transferring knowledge to farmers across the whole community, the advisor/consultant is a vital cog in the wheel and must not be forgotten about in the process. The present system is not fit for purpose and it is now a perfect time for Commissioner Hogan to be proactive and draw from the on-the ground expertise of consultants/advisors across the community to augment the bureaucrats in Brussels to change the rollout of direct payments and schemes for the better before the next CAP reform.