Landlines: Bureaucracy will increase with every change to CAP

So much for Shakespeare’s – or even David Jason and Pam Ferris’s version of the HE Bates novel – ‘darling buds of May.’ Although, on second thoughts, the playwright and poet’s full line was ‘Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May/And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.’

So as far as this particular month of May is concerned, he got it about right. The rough winds have blown, temperatures fallen to frost level, and rainfall is above average.

It’s bad enough at low level, but I was at the trig point on a Borders hill farm last Thursday and it felt more like a bad March day than one in late May.

Fortunately, most of us are such forward-looking, optimistic types that we tend to forget bad past experiences. It takes the specialists who concentrate on one subject to remind us that many a May has a cold spell in it that frequently spells trouble for fruit tree blossom and early-appearing potatoes. Well, we’ve just had another.

The net result is that crops that were looking good a few weeks ago more or less stood still and are now if anything a little behind. Bare patches have shown up in some fields, others have gone an unhealthy yellow that looks nothing like the many fields of flowering oilseed rape. But all we need is a few good days.

You’ve got to admire Brian Pack, who with his committee last year produced a report on how to reduce bureaucracy in farming. As I’ve noted before, benefitting from European Union and the few British subsidies comes with the baggage of farmers having to deal with large amounts of recording and form-filling to prove they’re entitled to it.

As man in general is a complicating animal and civil servants more complicating than most, it follows that with every change to Europe’s common agricultural policy (CAP) the bureaucracy will increase. Mr Pack’s report was thorough and well intended, but I couldn’t help feeling it was a couple of year out of his life that will never come again to no great effect.

Undaunted, he recently went to Brussels to argue with them that at least some of his proposals should be introduced. As Mr Pack himself noted, every EU commissioner of agriculture for 30 years has come to office agreeing that simplification of the CAP should be a priority. But Europe too has its Sir Humphreys and little happens. However, I admire Mr Pack’s persistence.

It’s a small thing, but I was in an up-market Northumbrian farm shop last week and thought a ‘three for £10’ offer – choose your three from mince, several kinds of sausages and burgers - looked good value. It took the usual food buyer for our happy home to point out that the sausages I’d chosen had only 75% pork, compared to our usual, if occasional, supermarket type with 95% and that shoppers need eyes in the back of their head. The pork pie was a disappointment too.