Guild members Gaina Morgan and Adrian Bell met EU agriculture ministers during an informal gathering in Denmark organised for members of the European Network of Agricultural Journalists (ENAJ) by the agriculture directorate-general of the European Commission.
It was an extremely useful visit on several levels, according to Wales-based freelance Gaina, who who presented farm commisoner Dacian Ciolos with a tie from the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society in preparation for a visit to the Royal Welsh Show.
Of the visit itself, she writes:
The trip provided informal access to the farm commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, to the various farm ministers and to European officials, providing a unique insight into the way that CAP reform is being shaped. It was also extremely interesting to hear the views of fellow journalists from the various different parts of Europe.
Also, the informality of the visits gave me an insight into the human dimensions that make up what so often comes across as a ‘machine’ churning out agricultural policy with little or no reference to the ordinary farmer. I could see how difficult it is for such a huge organisation to come up with a ‘one size fits all’ policy, especially in an age of severe economic challenges.
But it was heartening to hear, and to believe, that although the end result is very unlikely to please everyone (!), at least there is a very real will to meet the concerns of the individual farmer.
I was quite taken aback to chat informally with commissioner Ciolos (pictured bottom right), in his wellingtons, as he ate lunch out of a brown paper bag amid the mudflats of the Wadden Sea!
But I was also hugely reassured by his grasp of the reservations felt by Welsh farmers with regard to, in particular, the speed of transition from historic to area SFP. It was the reason, he explained, that he would be coming to the Royal Welsh Show: to discuss these and other concerns with farmers.
Hopefully, his view of the ‘greening’ of the CAP is that farmers are as important as the 12 million or so migrating birds who come to rest on the 500km that comprises the Wadden Sea, stretching along the Dutch, German and Danish coasts.
I felt that he would pay as much importance to the food providing qualities of European agriculture as he would to the ‘gigantic larder’for bird life, six kilometres of which we crossed in special tractor drawn buses at low tide. He and his fellow ministers and we journalists crossed the World-reknowned mud flats to reach Mando Island where the European Union Rural Development Plan no doubt draws on substantial EU reserves to maintain 34 permanent residents and some ‘tasty’ lamb.
The second part of our ‘day out‘ took in a trip to Denmark’s largest organic farm. Gram Castle extends to 1000 hectares and, again supported by Leader projects, a diversity of enterprises provides jobs and promotes what is described as a new kind of tourism. The organic sector reflects much of the country’s immense emphasis on health, well-being, and nature and is the flagship of Danish farming, with 20% of all Danish exports related to agriculture in general.
Yet a huge financial black hole amounting to between €10 billion and €20 billion as a result of the Danish land bubble and hugely over enthusiastic environmental regulation means the country’s farmers are struggling. And I was intrigued as to the game plan of the couple who have taken on the
Herculean task of restoring the 16 Century castle and estate and turning it into a viable enterprise.
They have five children and an incoming generation has to pay his or her parents 85% of the market price to buy the family farm – an eye watering burden on any scale. It saddles every generation with huge debt, even if the banks will finance the deal, with land values having halved in the last five years and negative equity a part of everyday farming life in Denmark.
The trip itself was generally well organised. I would have preferred that my flight (in common with about half the ENAJ party) had arrived in time for the initial briefing by the farm ministers. However, the official spokesman, Guild member Roger Waite, did a fantastic job in providing notes from that first meeting.
It would also have been nice to have a slightly clearer picture of who was providing what and how much access there would be.
These are minor points, though. The helpful attitude of both the European and Danish co-ordinators – even when it came to providing a cameraman when my own camera ‘stuck’ at the worst possible moment – meant we had a very informative and hugely enjoyable insight into the workings of the European Union ‘machine’, and into Danish farming.
It was a privilege to have been chosen to represent the Guild.
Gaina Morgan is available for news and feature commissions following her visit. Contact by Email.
Read Gaina’s Farm Business article on Denmark’s depreciating land values here.
Above: During a press conference with Mette Gjerskov, Danish Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, President in office of the Council; and Guild member Roger Waite, commissioner’s spokesman.
Below: Britain’s farm minister Jim Paice is interviewed on CAP topics.