‘Crop rule holds industry back’

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Pic: Chris Radburn/PA
Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Pic: Chris Radburn/PA
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European Union rules are damaging the UK’s farming industry but continuing to be part of a single market makes sense, the Environment Secretary said.

While resisting to say for sure which way she would vote in a referendum on whether the UK should remain part of the EU, Liz Truss outlined how some agricultural rules set by Brussels were detrimental to UK farmers.

Miss Truss told the Sunday Telegraph that she saw the damaging impact of the Common Agricultural Policy on the UK farming industry “all the time”.

She also highlighted her concern about the impending three crop rule, which means some farmers with more than 30 hectares of arable land will have to grow three different types of crops as part of a ‘greening’ environmental policy.

She said: “There are benefits to being in a single market, but there are serious costs. The three crop rule means that Brussels bureaucrats are going to be deciding what our farmers produce, rather than what consumers want, which is a problem.”

Miss Truss said how she would vote in an in-out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, which has been promised by David Cameron should the Conservatives win the general election, would depend on “the offer on the table”.

“The best position for us is to get a good deal from the EU so we can stay part of a single market, but we can get rid of some of these regulations that hold back not just our own competitiveness, but also the competitiveness of the whole of the EU,” the South West Norfolk MP said.

Richard Pearson, regional director of the National Farmers’ Union for the North East and Yorkshire, said Europe was the key marketplace for the UK’s farmed produce and trade had to be protected. However, he agreed with Miss Truss in criticising some of the EU’s agricultural regulations.

“The killer stat is that 75 per cent of all food produced by our farmers goes into Europe so it’s vital we continue to trade with our biggest customer,” Mr Pearson told The Yorkshire Post.

“But ask any farmer and they will complain about the rules and regulations that they have to operate within every single day. Many of them don’t make sense, either commercially or scientifically, and they find it very difficult and hard to see the justification for them.

“What we do want is sound science-based, commercially beneficial rules we can all work to, to maximise the output from our farming industry.

“Having to have three crops on a farm of 70 acres - it doesn’t help to streamline your business. It means more spraying and transportation, more fuel miles, costs and inefficiencies and there is no scientific or environmental benefit of doing this.”

He added: “What we are seeing is volatility in the market and so what we want from Brussels is an understanding of what we are dealing with, and we don’t feel like we get that. We feel like we are fighting against them.”

Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, last week said there will be no early review of CAP greening rules, including the contentious three-crop rule, before a scheduled review which is not due until 2016.