The Common Agricultural Policy turned 60 on Monday. All farmers, and indeed consumers, across Europe should raise a glass to it.
Yes, it is massively flawed, but nowhere else in the developed world has the family farm been supported in this way.
There is no chance that Ireland would still have over 120,000 farms, averaging 35ha, without the overarching influence of the CAP.
Why did it work? At its heart, the CAP was a contract between the consumer and the producer. Its aim was to deliver a guaranteed supply of affordable, high-quality food in a stable market through support for farmers.
The CAP has broadly developed in three phases
This contract was brokered by the European Commission and directed by the farm ministers of the nation states through ministerial council. Over the decades, the European Parliament has had a growing influence.
The CAP has broadly developed in three phases. Initially, managed markets, with tariffs on imports and refunds on exports delivered prices that encouraged farmers to increase production. This was wildly successful through the 1960s and 1970s, until we had beef mountains, and wine and milk lakes.
We then transitioned into direct farm supports, with a mix of production-linked payments and quotas slowing expansion through the 1980s and 1990s. This was partly a response to overproduction, and partly to address international trade rules limiting the extent to which Europe could protect markets, as the World Trade Organisation grew in power and influence.
Phase three has seen the freedom to expand production again in the post-quota era. This time the target is a globalised agricultural market with few protections or barriers, where demand is being driven by population growth.
The CAP budget peaked under Ray MacSharry in the late 1980s
Supports are increasingly directed towards environmental goods, as the extent of the climate and biodiversity challenges becomes more apparent by the day.
So what is the future for the CAP? Its remit has never been as broad, confusing and challenging. The CAP budget peaked under Ray MacSharry in the late 1980s, inflation has eroded its clout ever since.
Delivering the transition to low-carbon farming while maintaining family farm viability is a unique challenge. The ongoing ban on GM technology such as CRISPR, ties one hand of the industry behind its back.
We are losing competitiveness in this global market, and we’re missing opportunities to adapt plants to be more nutrient-efficient and disease-resistant.
If it is to meet its remit, the CAP must stay young as it grows older.