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How CAP reform affects rented land for outdoor pigs

by 5m Editor
10 May 2004, at 12:00am

UK - An interesting polarisation of views is emerging over the likely affect of CAP reform and cross-compliance on outdoor pigs.

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Of immediate concern is whether land for renting will be available over the months ahead. In other words, how many landowners will decide not to let land for the time being, in case it compromises their Single Farm Payment in the future?

A longer term worry is whether some will decide not to let land for outdoor pigs, now or in the future, because of the inconveniences involved, including possible cross-compliance risks.

A further issue is whether rents that are asked for any remaining suitable land will be too high. An increase of 30 percent could conceivably load up to 31 on each weaner produced, and at a time of high feed prices some producers might consider this too heavy a burden to bear.

And finally there is considerable concern currently ricocheting around all pig producers with arable enterprises about the risks of breaching cross compliance rules on a pig unit (not such a hard thing to do), thereby jeopardizing Single Farm Payment on the arable acres.

Outdoor producers are particularly concerned about soil management conditions. How on earth do you maintain ground cover with outdoor pigs? Whilst Defra is building a reputation for adopting a sensible - proportional - approach to such issues, the same cannot be said of all trading standards offices, and it emphatically cannot be said of the Environment Agency.

LAND PROBLEMS NOW

Ken Jones, of FDP Savills at Lincoln, takes the view that landowners need not be spooked into putting a temporary block on all land being rented for outdoor pigs. "The same issue arises with land rented for specialist vegetable production," he said. "I am comfortable there are ways of removing risk for the landlord."

New agreements could be suitably short term and existing agreements could be reworded. Where two willing parties wanted to work together as landlord and tenant it would be possible to find a form of words that protected both parties and did not compromise the landlord's Single Farm Payment, he said. Contract and partnership agreements were two of the mechanisms that might be bought into play.

"As long as there is a suitable process in place for Defra to see, landlords will be able to continue making land available to outdoor pig producers without risk to themselves."

LAND PROBLEMS IN THE FUTURE

As for the longer term, different views emerge, and these may be based on geography as much as anything else.

The view from one northern farmer who also rents land for his own outdoor pigs, is that supplies of rentable land could dry up, and what little land does become available might be 3300- 3350 an acre compared to today's 3200- 3250.

He cites the problem of cross-compliance but also makes the point that in areas where land can be rented for conventional cropping of say, carrots or potatoes, then letting it for pigs is a less attractive option.

"Let's face it, unless the rent is significantly more, why bother with all the hassle. Most people see outdoor pigs as troublesome now and would far rather see neat tramlines than pigs in their fields. CAP reform isn't going to make the situation any easier."

But move down to East Anglia and the view is different. "If we are talking about marginal land without irrigation, then outdoor pigs are an excellent proposition for a landlord," said independent consultant Peter Crichton. " 3150- 3200 an acre for sandland is a first class return. Nothing else you can grow on unirrigated sand will bring in anything like that."

Whether Single Farm Payment was attached to the landlord or the tenant would make little difference to rental values, he said, as the market would find its level, which, when Single Farm Payment was taken into account, by one or the other party, would be not dissimilar to current values.

CROSS COMPLIANCE

The real problem, then, may not be availability of land but cross compliance. The advice to the pig sector at present must be to tick the boxes as required, when required, and not to ask too many questions. "If people keep asking questions about green cover then they are going to start getting answers to those questions," said one adviser.

That's all well and fine, according to the northern arable/pig farmer, but life is not always as simple as that. "I trust Defra to employ a light touch when appropriate but I have no such faith in the non-government agencies."

NPA shares producers' concerns over cross compliance. With NFU, it will urge Defra to adopt a cost-effective and flexible approach. But however flexible Defra shows itself to be, there is no arguing that outdoor pigs could pose a problem. They are highly visible, they quickly remove all green cover, and run-off is visibly a problem in some areas.

NPA regional manager Ian Campbell's view is that if there is a problem that needs addressing, then pig farmers will do their best to address it, as long as funding is available.

Ken Jones strikes a confident note: "Farmers are incredibly innovative. If government tells them what it wants to do and sticks to what it says, then farmers will do their level best to deliver. I think Defra recognizes this."

DEFRA ADVICE

The advice to all pig producers from Duncan Prior, head of Defra's pig, poultry and eggs branch, is to get engaged with the current consultation process. Producers should not take the view that hitherto they have been an unsupported sector and therefore CAP reform does not affect them; one way of another it will affect everybody.

HOLDING POSITION

Fortunately, reports Andrew Knowles of the British Pig Executive, those who wish, can put a decision about whether to claim Single Farm Payment on the back burner for the time being, as it will be possible, for the immediate future, to register for payment without claiming it and triggering cross compliance.

Source: National Pig Association - By Digby Scott - 9th May 2004

5m Editor