The Common Agricultural Policy is teeming with myths. Many believe there is a fairy godmother who showers farmers with gold from her CAP just for being farmers. If the fairy godmother ever existed she is long vanished. CAP now insists on proven value for all its discretionary grants.
Whereas in 1985, around 70% of the EU budget was spent on agriculture. In 2011, direct aid to farmers and market-related expenditure amount to just 30% of the budget, and rural development spending to 11%. This declining path continues.
But these grants are dropping. The EU zone is in a financial crisis. The new EU member states will soon be eligible for agricultural grants and the budget has been shrinking for years. Already there are major changes planned for the next budget period in 2013.
It is an unsettling reality inexorably looming over Dartmoor. In the present model, without public support huge swathes of the farming industry will vanish, along with the landscape. Dartmoor would be devastated, the local economy sent into a tailspin and one of the nations favourite leisure grounds disappear. The landscape is the foundation of 90% of local businesses. More than 2.5 million tourists spend over £144 million per year in the area.
Sustainable farming for Dartmoor
Dartmoor needs a sustainable farming model. Sustainable not only ecologically but also economically, politically and technologically. A synthesis that can guarantee the landscape and economy now and for future generations.
CAP is involved in the creation of this synthesis. It is supporting new economic directions as well as recognising how agriculture underpins the whole economy. It does not dictate. It has made that mistake before. Instead its criteria ensure that agriculture’s best interest is to venture in new directions. It is a messy business. Experiments, mistakes and blind alleys are the foundation of success, and success relies on understanding how the landscape literally is traditional farming.
Traditional husbandry on Dartmoor
Small labour-intensive farms created the Dartmoor landscape, harnessing every patch of land. There was little specialisation; Families grew their own food, butchered their own animals and bought or bartered other necessities with the surplus. Farmers treasured the land – the frost pockets which needed late sowing, the ponds that lured the wildfowl, the coppiced woods that provided timber, firewood and wild food.
The skulk of bracken across the moors is a classic symptom. It destroys archeology, denies access and encourages ticks. The ticks bring disease. Old-style farming controlled the bracken. The sheep and cattle broke it up. The farmers scythed it for winter bedding. The moors were open. This was traditional husbandry.
It is still the best model for Dartmoor farms. The hills, the soil and the farm size do not suit the money-fertile intensity that powers lowland farms. For sixty years that model has been pursued, and local farms are still not financially stable. Farmers have left and farms split up. How does CAP help farmers to look again at this traditional model?