Fruit and vegetable co-operatives are important in the UK and, indeed, throughout the EU - a fact recognised by the Commission and backed up by the provision of aid to co-operatives (or "producer organisations", in Euro speak) through the fruit and vegetable regime.
All 27 member states of the EU are required to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to allow properly structured fruit and vegetable co-operatives to apply for the aid to which the EU regulations say they are entitled. This aid benefits the co-operative, it benefits the growers that are members of that co-operative and it certainly benefits the fruit and vegetable industries of those countries.
In the UK, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is responsible for administering the scheme that pays some £30m to eligible fruit and vegetable co-operatives. The RPA clearly has a role in ensuring that public money is spent correctly and not fraudulently. We would all agree with that. But surely the RPA also has a role to play in ensuring that the process of claiming that aid is as straightforward and un-bureaucratic as possible.
Unfortunately for the UK's co-operatives it seems that this isn't the case, with an increasing sea of paperwork threatening to drown them. Some co-operatives are deciding that, frankly, it's not worth it. This is a travesty for the co-operative, for the grower and for UK horticulture as a whole.
We must get back to basics. Checks on expenditure are important, but so is challenging whether another tier of bureaucracy is really needed. That's what UK co-operatives and the NFU want and, when we get that, perhaps more co-operatives will think that it is worth applying.