The latest version of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been in place for just over a year now.

As has been the case before, its introduction has made farmers better appreciate its predecessor and it has been one of the focal points of recent farmer protests across the EU.

The EU is frequently criticised for its slow decision making and while that is true, it is also a reflection of the exceptionally democratic nature of the institution.

Also, given that it represents a collection of independent member states, it operates on a consensus model, whereby issues are debated to the point of exhaustion and inevitably a compromise decision is arrived at, which usually isn’t exactly what anyone wanted but something that everyone can live with.

Current CAP originated in different era

The current CAP largely reflects the mood of EU countries at the end of the last decade, when the outgoing European Parliament was elected.

Phil Hogan, then-agriculture commissioner, launched the framework of the CAP in the middle of 2018 and it was debated and amended in the following years.

The outgoing Parliament was elected in 2019 in a pre-COVID, pre-Russian invasion of Ukraine and pre-Middle East conflict when the single biggest issue on the EU agenda was climate change.

Elections to that parliament brought a huge increase in the numbers of Green Party MEPs and all other parties also sought to claim the “green agenda”.

That led to the Green Deal theme, announced by the incoming Commission president Ursula von der Leyen at the Agriculture Outlook Conference in December 2019 followed by the Farm to Fork Strategy launched in early 2020.

This became the framework on which the current CAP is built.

Once-in-a-generation disruption

Since then, markets for agriculture commodities have been on a roller coaster journey and Russia invading Ukraine has had a once-in-a-generation impact on input costs.

This, combined with difficult weather across Europe in 2023 and a slump in farmgate prices, meant that farmers were at breaking point just as the full bureaucracy of the latest CAP became a reality.

However, nothing focuses the mind of a politician like an election and this is what is happening in the EU a few weeks from now and many member states have either local or national election in the coming year including Ireland.

Farmer protests have caught the attention and there is a realisation in the EU that farmers are not just complaining for the sake of it - they are in genuine difficulty, with the bureaucracy of the CAP adding to the burden.

A consolation on how it could be improved has been open for feedback and individual farmers, not just the farm organisations, should take the opportunity to make their views known.

There is now less than 24 hours to do so, as it closes on Monday 8 April, so it is necessary to respond immediately by following this link.

A CAP that fits farming

While the CAP in its latest form has irritated many farmers, it has over the decades served farmers well and it is well worth working to preserve and of course improve.

Farmers in England post-Brexit have been left feeling abandoned with the CAP replacement in the form of environmental schemes.

These have failed to attract farmer participation and, as a result, many farmers are in financial hardship.

Farmers in the devolved regions of the UK have fared somewhat better, but there is nothing better than a farmer-focused CAP and the upcoming elections and this consultation should be used as opportunities to make the CAP work for farmers.