Landlines: Farming has jargon all of its own

Harvesting near Maxton in the Scottish Borders.
Harvesting near Maxton in the Scottish Borders.

While trying hard to keep track of where we are now with European Union farming policy and what changes will mean to British farmers by 2015 I realised yet again why any layman trying to do the same would not only lose interest, but quite probably the will to live

It’s not only the complications of how and when support payments will be made and whether Brussels bureaucrats or EU members of parliament will have the final say on the common agricultural policy (CAP) changes, but the terminology.

Too painful to give a full litany, but examples include: Internal convergence – bringing an individual farm’s existing support payments towards a regional average. Degressivity – a cap on support payments for individual farms. Optional redistributive payments for the first hectare – er, pass. Ecological focus areas and areas of natural constraint – something to do with conservation payments. Flexibility between pillars, that is modulation – nurse, the screens.

When you’re immersed daily in this guff, it makes some sense and farming is not the only industry to have a jargon all its own. Teachers have a habit of talking in acronyms about schemes and methods, and builders and scientific disciplines have their own shorthand. But even allowing for the fact that every discussion and decision has now to be translated for 28 member states there has always seemed something peculiarly convoluted about CAP terms.

It pays farmers, in every sense, to keep up with what civil servants and politicians – MPs, MSPs and MEPs – are trying to do to balance payments that broadly speaking support food production with those intended to encourage conservation and care of the countryside. It’s now clear that a CAP “deal” announced several months ago won’t be agreed in detail by MEPs until the end of this year, if then. Even agreement will leave individual members flexibility on how subsidies can be paid and if that doesn’t cause argument between governments and farmers’ unions I’ll eat my voluntary coupled support hat.

With any free time from fretting about the CAP, we can worry about global warming where two new words have appeared in the debate. They are “warmist”, hinting that those who believe average world temperature is rising are the equivalent of a religious sect, and “denialist”, applied to those who claim humanity isn’t responsible for climate change. Mark Walport, currently chief science adviser to the UK Government isn’t happy about either term, claiming it devalues what should be a scientific argument, with science saying that humans are to blame by emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases on an unprecedented scale. In the past few months, “denialists” have regained ground, but Professor Walport told them: “A quotation from Daniel Moynihan is apt – ‘You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.’”

What a relief to think short term and say that harvest has been much more successful than at one time seemed likely and that a September day such as we had on Sunday doesn’t come along very often to enjoy.