Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

Now I know that a few of my readers may well have already gone red in the face, in the knowledge that all that money that is paid into the EU is then distributed to farmers to ensure they can continue to run round in Landover Defenders; well maybe not all the money, the latest figures allocate about 30% of all EU funding to agriculture with an additional 11% to rural development which encompasses more than just farms. Still that’s a lot of Range Rovers, although if you are from the UK you can take solace in the fact that they are manufactured in England!

My personal gripe about the CAP is that its emphasis is \ was on larger farms, the consequences of which led to the massive food surpluses of the 1980’s; back then almost 70% of all EU money went to farmers and this resulted in a more American monoculture way of farming, which in turn impacted heavily on the environment. Greater use of pesticides and fertilisers, which amongst other things effected the bee population, polluted natural water aquifers and ultimately leaves the land unusable unless chemically enhanced. No doubt the chemical industry bosses are driving round in Ferraris courtesy of EU funding, albeit indirectly.

Of course now I have a slightly skewed view, in that as the owner of three and a half hectares (around 7.5 acres) of agricultural land I am in receipt of funds from those nice people in Brussels. But before you start screaming at me that I’m sponging off the UK tax payer I’ll quickly mention that we receive approximately £300 per year, which just about covers the fuel required to meet the requirements set down to be able to claim the funds in the first place. How daft is that? I’d probably be better off without it!

But then I realised why the CAP could be a good thing, with the emphasis on could; as the powers that be have positioned themselves over the decades to be able to mould how farming is carried out in the future. As all farmers in Europe receive some kind of funding then conditions could be applied to ensure that greener and more sustainable practices are followed. And, believe it or not, that appears to be the direction that they are now taking in Brussels. Although as you would expect they will probably take a number of years before they come into effect.

Without boring you too much, in fact I’d be surprised if you got this far, the two key points that interest me most are:

· Steps to encouraging more crop diversification, maintaining permanent pasture and ecological focused areas in larger farms, whilst relaxing rules for smaller environmentally certified farms (like us)

· A cap on the amount of money paid to larger farms with an overall reduction in payments to the largest farms of up to 70% (this is the farms that claim €300,000 + every year)

So here’s to the CAP and the EU, it looks like they may be heading in the right direction at long last. Although you have to wonder how farming in Europe would have developed had we never had the policy in the first place? I’m pretty certain that each member state would now have far better food security and we wouldn’t have destroyed a lot of the biodiversity that used to make a farm a farm.

Hopefully these changes, if they ever happen, will allow Gosia and I to have a working ‘closed cycle farm’ running alongside what I can only described as a ‘Farm House Bed and Breakfast’. And if we are lucky enough to get a few hundred pounds a year to subsidise our dream then I’ll happily accept it. Incidentally I drive a Lada Niva 🙂

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Preperation

Preparation for next years kitchen garden.

Deciding what to do when you wake up in the morning can be a difficult decision,  not because we are short of ideas; far from it, its because we have too much to do. First of all you have to consider the weather, if it’s sunny then an outside job is on the cards, but if it’s too windy we are unlikely to traversing the scaffold and if it’s raining then we will probably want to work inside the house. Then of course you have to prioritise the work, if you have run out of wood then chopping more is a good idea, but then finishing the soffit and starting to mark out the internal walls in the house are becoming more important. Luckily for me I have Gosia, who has the ability to assimilate all of the information and decide on the days action. Of course I put up a bit of a fight if I’m not keen, had one two many beers the night before or simply disagree with the whole plan, procrastinate as I do, nine times out of ten you can be assured that Gosias plan is by far the best and most sensible and becomes the course of action for the day (I don’t know why I’m writing this, she never reads the blog!)

Gosia working hard as ever.

Anyway as we have had such good weather, cold but dry and sunny, we have turned our attention to some outdoor tasks and put in some time creating our veg patches ready for next year. Steve was good enough to pop over with his tractor and rotavator and turned over two areas of land that we have earmarked for cultivation. I had laid down old straw over the summer along with the muck out from the lambs shelter, most of which had rotted down over time, and this was chopped up nicely and mixed with the soil as Steve gave three or four passes on the tractor. Once completed we laid even more straw on top to suppress any weeds that may want to break out and in the spring we intend to rotavate it all again a couple of weeks before planting. The two areas cover about 70 square meters and will be primarily used as our kitchen garden. We have also ploughed the ‘top field’ by the house, around 900 square meters, for our main crop of potatoes, grain, beet and other crops for animal fodder. The exact distribution is yet to be decided, but animal feed is the main goal. As we hope to gain organic status in the future we have to consider what we plant and how we fertilise which adds a degree of complication, but we have contact with a local organic farmer and hope to visit him soon to discuss the best way to achieve this given our type of land.

Top field above the house
Top field above the house.

Earlier in the year we had prepared a couple of raised beds and a couple of terraces; these were initially planted with beans, of various varieties, and peas; the idea been to get some nitrogen into the ground (peas and beans fix nitrogen in the soil). Everything cropped well and the dried beans will provide many a meal more over winter time; sadly the peas, fresh and frozen, are all gone, they were so good that they have all taken an indirect route to the composting pile 🙂 The terraces were replanted with around 30 strawberry plants in September, all of which seem to have taken well and we added 20 black current bushes to the surrounding area. The black currents were pruned hard back, leaving just three buds, the idea here is to encourage root growth for a good crop in two years time. We have existing black and red current bushes along with gooseberry and masses of raspberries that spread through the orchard; Gosia spent over two days pruning these back after this years crop, so you can imagine the quantity we have, but even with such a large quantity nothing went to waste as we have jam, cordials and liqueurs from the spoils not to mention all that were eaten fresh or given away; we hope to plant some late fruiting varieties in the future to extend the glut even further. We also have the future task of spraying the fruit trees with a bordeaux mixture as we suffered from quite a bit of fungas related disease and bordeaux is a good organic solution; copper sulphate was ordered over the internet and we have plenty of lime left over from the render, so all that remains is to mix and spray; maybe a task for next week once I check the required ratios again 🙂

Of course you don’t think for a minute that Gosia would let me get away with doing nothing on the house do you? Just because external work is now on hold we still had the task of clearing the site and re stacking the wood that we have for the construction of the terrace; taking a note of dimensions so that we can refer back to the plans and order any wood required so that it may season over winter. We have also decided on a wooden decking for the terrace so this needs to calculated and added to out wood yard shopping list. Incidentally we cleared up all the tin off-cuts from the roof and weighed it in at the scarp yard, another 100 pln; which just about covers the cost of the bath. Now to find some taps and sort out a water supply!