Category Archives: EU

Brexit could boost British farming

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As Kim Wilkie (below) says, government can never quite come up with the right legislation to protect against war, weather and pestilence, but then neither can an unregulated market. Agriculture cannot be treated as a purely commercial industry because too many other natural factors are at stake and the timescales are millennial.


He says that priority must be given to reviving the soils we have exhausted over the past 50 years. Treating arable land as an inert substrate for chemicals to boost crop production has proved to be a very short-term solution.

Drenching farmland in artificial nitrates not only kills the organic life of the soil, it is an inefficient way of getting nutrients into plants. As more and more nitrates are then needed to make the impoverished soil grow crops, the indigestible quantities are washed out into watercourses and pollute rivers and aquifers.

The fragile soil, deep ploughed and no longer bound together by organic matter (the life in the soil), also washes away into the sea. The Environment Agency estimates that across the UK, 2m tonnes of topsoil are eroded every year.

Combined with sensible farming, such as nitrogen-fixing crops and minimum tilling of the land, a return to mixed farming (rotating arable cultivation with cattle and sheep pasture grazing) does seem to offer a way of growing enough protein to feed the planet while at the same time restoring a healthy and stable environment.

Wilkie continues by pointing out that in the British Isles grass grows particularly well and livestock, grazing on pasture outside rather than on corn in sheds, is an efficient method of converting photosynthesising plants into protein. Co-operating with the land in this way continues a natural environment that has evolved with man since the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago.

The old argument is that we can only feed the world if we pursue intensive chemical agro-industry. New understanding of soil science suggests that we can actually only continue to produce enough food if we change our farming practices and reverse the depletion of our soil.

All farming needs to work harmoniously with natural systems. Attitudes to agriculture are buffeted by fears of starvation on the one hand and the desire for cheap food on the other. War, weather and pestilence haunt productivity.

Brexit has precipitated a complete review of subsidies. Housing demand is putting major pressure on the rural South East and particularly the greenbelt. Free Trade in chlorinated chicken looms ominously over agricultural integrity and food health. Where will it all end?

The first indications are it might go in some surprisingly good directions. The emphasis may shift from volume annual yields to long-term productivity. Farm support may be targeted towards methods that work with the health of soil and water. Chemical nitrates and pollutants may be taxed. Market gardens may reappear around our bulging urban edges.

*Kim Wilkie studied modern history at Oxford and landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, before setting up his landscape studio in London in 1989, combining design with running a small farm with rearing longhorn cattle. 

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/bde16d6a-2772-11e8-9274-2b13fccdc744

 

 

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Advice from Ireland: “We must change our ways to make emissions fall and farmers’ incomes rise”

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“The present system is not serving family farmers well. Young people are leaving the land in droves. For the second time in five years Ireland has had to import fodder to feed its animals. Farmers’ incomes are on the floor while everyone else profits from their work. We are overstocking our land and pushing an intensive model that is damaging our soil”.

So writes Eamon Ryan in the Times (left), an Irish Green Party politician who has served as Leader of the Green Party since May 2011 and as Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources from 2007 to 2011. He believes in a green future for Irish farming and rural life and in family farmers as the ‘frontline heroes’ in meeting the great environmental challenges we face.

We must change our ways to make emissions fall and farmers’ incomes rise

Forthcoming changes to the Common Agricultural Policy will allow us to make these reforms and pay farmers properly for doing the right thing. We should start by ensuring that we put a price on the carbon that stays stored in fields, bogs and trees. It is a chance to direct money to the least advantaged parts of our country.

We have an obligation to slow runaway climate change and can face these challenges knowing that the evolutionary leap we need to take will also be the best way to provide for the people of rural Ireland.

Farmers will become experts in planting and maintaining a new national forest, where native trees are grown in a way that allows for natural seeding, extraction and regeneration. It will be full of biodiversity and a great addition to the Wild Atlantic Way. The forest can be a park for locals and visitors alike, far better than the dark and impenetrable coniferous plantations that are clear-felled every 35 years.

Those farmers will also be paid for restoring the quality of our water. By monitoring everything that is done on the land, we can find solutions to the floods and droughts coming our way with climate change.

The prime minister rejected a citizens’ assembly recommendation last week that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture should be taxed, and the revenue generated be used for climate-friendly farming policies. The governing party. Fine Gael, is all about supporting big business, so it is happy to protect the status quo.

At some point, though, farmers are going to realise that they are not being well represented. The best plan is to go green.

Ryan’s recommendations are relevant even to those who leave the European Union.

 

 

 

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‘Bright Blue’ Conservative proposal: damaging to British food producers but profitable to the hospitality industry, commodity speculators and Exim traders

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The proposal by a Conservative think tank opens with a people-pleasing injunction: end the payment of vast subsidies to wealthy landowners after Brexit.

However, those who read and remember more than the headline will begin to see that profits are simply to be redirected.

“The EU system of paying farmers according to how much land they own should be replaced by payments for environmental benefits plus a ‘means-tested livelihood support’ for the poorest”, the report by Bright Blue says. It accepts that the system could reduce food production and make Britain more reliant on imports, which account for 40% of consumption. However, it says that the loss of self-sufficiency is a price worth paying for protecting wildlife and natural beauty.

After a lyrical paragraph about the environment, Bright Blue sheds sentiment and proposes three income sources for food producers (in order of preference?):

  1. A market-based commissioning scheme;
  2. means-tested livelihood support – aka government dole
  3. and/or income from agricultural produce or other monetisable services sold at market prices without any production subsidies.

Yet another nightmare administrative system?

Chapter Three of the report explains, “We envisage ‘suppliers’ bidding together or individually to supply ecosystem services to paying ‘beneficiaries’ in specific catchments on online market-places. Suppliers would include farmers, land owners, and land managers”. 

Voices of sanityTimes readers’ comment:

David Illsley 

How to do the right thing for all the wrong reasons! Lower subsidies for empty fields, yes! but don’t pay farmers to stop producing food only to pay them for planting flowers! This country needs to be self-sufficient in basic foods, milk, grain, meat, food, water, and as much as possible energy. 

Tony Perryman 

So right, when the Chancellor might be announcing a relaxation of greenbelt rules this week. Land and the production of food for the nation is more important; our trading deficit will become a concern post Brexit. 

Keith William Hendry 

Scotland is self-sufficient in fish, meat, dairy products, vegetables & we have copious amounts of water. Our whisky is the biggest net export cash raiser for the exchequer.

Jane Cooper says it all:

“One problem is that UK farmers, farming to support and enhance our environment and with high animal welfare standards, will be competing on a world market with overseas companies that produce food cheaply by trashing their environments, abusing animals and paying slave-labour wages to employees.  That’s not a fair ‘market’ for UK farmers to be competing in.  

“If you can find a way to have farmers fairly paid what it actually costs to produce food in the UK to the environmental and welfare standards expected by most people in UK, then I agree subsidies wouldn’t be needed”.

 

 

 

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In the dark? Could there be a ‘bespoke’ agricultural policy after Brexit

MP for Stroud, David Drew, Shadow Farming and Rural Affairs Minister, retweeted a link to a Farmers Weekly article,Devolved regions left in dark about plans to take farming out of transition agreement’.

Scottish Office Minister Ian Duncan has suggested that the UK will have its own agricultural policy in March 2019. He said: “We believe taking UK farming out of the CAP during transition is the right thing to do. As farmers you will be better off”.

Professor Dieter Helm, chair of the Natural Capital Committee, is advising the Department lor Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on British agricultural policy (BAP) post-Brexit. He says the EU’s principle of paying farmers for the area of land they farm under the basic payment scheme (BPS) should go and asserts that the BPS does not actually affect food production.

But UK farmers subsidise the low (and unjust) prices received for the food they produce with the BPS payments, which average about £25,000 a year per farm according to an article in the Private Eye, issue 1456, which refers to figures from DEFRA’s Farm Business Income Survey :

For 2016-17, the average cereal farm is forecast to make a profit of £38,000 and the average lowland livestock farm £19,000, though the survey also noted that over 20% of cereal, dairy, lowland grazing livestock, mixed and poultry farms failed to make a profit in 2016/17. Without the BPS, most farms would have traded at a loss.

But the DEFRA survey’s figures were said to include BPS receipts and exclude farmers’ wages or personal drawings.

A 2016 LEI study for the NFU concluded that all UK regions would show, on average, a decline in farm incomes if the UK government fully abolished the direct payments. The UK trade liberalisation scenario would show the most significant changes; farm incomes would decline in all regions, except for the East of England where half of the UK horticultural farms are located, as they do not receive single farm payments (now superseded by BPS since Jan 2015) for fruit, vegetables and table potatoes.

How will UK farmers be protected from subsidised food exports from EU farmers who still enjoy BPS payments?

The column in Private Eye (1443) pointed out that given targetted production subsidies Brexit presents a real opportunity to introduce a bespoke British agricultural policy. A British agricultural policy (BAP) could:

  • encourage more mixed patterns of farming,
  • discourage industrial livestock production and
  • reverse the increasing imbalance in Britain’s trade in food.

To this end, DEFRA is urged to seek advice from other quarters – Professor Tim Lang comes first to mind.

 

 

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Butter price rise: falling milk production, rising demand, adverse weather, liberalisation – low prices are still the elephant in the room

As salaried workers in the commercial media, futures markets and organisations including the NFU, AHDB, DEFRA, DairyUK and RABDF pontificate about the situation, it is good to see that the ignored elephant in the room is slipping in to the columns of the Financial Times.

Emiko Terazono, commodities correspondent, reports that many dairy farms in Europe and Brazil have endured years of ‘sluggish’ (aka low) dairy prices and quotes Kevin Bellamy (Rabobank): “Many dairy farms in Europe and Brazil are suffering from a shortage of young cows to bring into the herd after the years of sluggish dairy prices. Because of the period of prolonged low prices the young stock aren’t there”.

She refers to the EU’s move to liberalise its dairy market in 2015, lifting restrictions on production and exports, which caused prices for fall by more than half between 2014 and 2015, with many dairy farmers around the world going out of business or struggling under increased debts. The EU then responded by introducing voluntary output cuts and compensated farmers for not producing milk. World milk supplies from leading five producer regions slipped 0.4% in 2016.

January protests outside the EU Council building covered here. Above, see the European Milk Board’s Faironika, the artificial cow canvassing for fair payment for dairy farmers and explaining the nutritional value of milk, the role of farmers and their value to the rural economy

During the protests in January, Sieta van Keimpema, dairy farmer and vice-president of the European Milk Board, the lobby group representing the region’s producers, “Milk producers all over Europe are still in the throes of the crisis . . . and although the milk price has rebounded from last year’s lows, it is still lower than the cost of production”.

 

 

 

Seeking food supplies from Turkey and Morocco?  Time for change!

On BBC Radio 4 today it was reported that some supermarkets are limiting sales of fruit and vegetables.

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A newspaper elaborates: “Morrisons and Tesco have limited the amount of lettuce and broccoli after flooding and snow hit farms in Spain. Shortages of other household favourites – including cauliflower, cucumbers, courgettes, oranges, peppers and tomatoes – are also expected. Prices of some veg has rocketed 40% due to the freak weather. Sainsburys admitted weather has also affected its stocks”.

HortiDaily reports on frost in Europe in detail (one of many pictures below) and the search for supplies from Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia.

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A former Greenpeace Economist foresees these and more persistent problems in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism.

Colin Hines reminds us that in 2014 the UK supplied just over half (54%) of its food supply. The EU was by far the next largest supplier at 27%. It is clear that we depend on Europe to keep ourselves fed. He adds:

“At present the UK can only feed around 60% of its present population of 65 million, let alone the around 8 million extra projected in the next 15 years. The UK’s food vulnerability could worsen for a number of reasons. The global availability of the food supplies that the UK at present imports could be dramatically reduced, due to rapidly rising global demand, particularly from Asia; or increased domestic demand from the countries that we at present import from; or if we are unable to afford whatever the global prices might rise to”.

And, presciently, “the threat to UK food security could be more serious should increased global demand combine with other potential problems such as climate change”.

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A 2013 report from the UK government’s official climate change advisers warned that droughts could devastate food production in England by the 2020s. Hines advises: “The answer has to be to heed the Sustainable Development Commission’s call ‘to produce more food from less land and to eat differently, specifically to eat more plant-based foods, less meat and dairy, and to waste dramatically less”.

To this he adds the need to halt as rapidly as possible the UK’s population growth, by curbing present levels of migration and reducing it to more sustainable levels, bearing in mind the numbers we will be able to feed predominantly from our own resources.

Finally he focusses on another area of import dependence.  A 2007 study, ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie, estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant, “including far less meat consumption, feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues; returning human sewage to productive land; dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings, rather than concentration in large farms; local slaughter and food distribution; managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure; and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers”.

Time to ‘retool’ our provisioning?

“UK agriculture is also reliant upon imported energy, fertiliser, seeds and machinery. So should the availability of such imports become limited because of purchase by more affluent countries, or were we to become unable to afford to purchase such imports in the quantities required, then our domestic agriculture itself would be deprived of such essential inputs”.

And, essentially,  give our food producers – from farmers to small-holders – a fair price covering costs of production plus.

 

 

 

Taking back control of the agricultural economy

Former Conservative MP Matthew Parris asks, “Is ‘food security’ still an imperative for this 21st-century country long unable to home-source many of the other mainstays of our economic life? Why, post-CAP, should we despoil East Anglia and plunder Treasury coffers for fear of relying on Canadian wheat or West Indian sugar?

We all need to take a view on the texture of the rural Britain we want to sponsor, the size, type and location of the farms we want to support, the agriculture we want to see there.

Hill farming on sloping ground. in places rocky, often marshy and reedy, everywhere wet, exposed and windy, and with poor-quality soil whose agricultural use is only grazing. Nearly half of hill-farmers’ income comes from CAP subsidies. For them it’s the foundation of what still amounts to scraping by: they really are just about managing. Ministers guaranteed during the recent referendum campaign that this bedrock would not be disturbed until 2020. Beyond that there are no promises.

Governments cannot strike out in a new direction as suddenly as could an individual like me. Farmers and local businesses have invested whole lives in what they expect, and cannot take too much uncertainty about the future. Nor should the English countryside become just a forest, or a leisure park.

But sometimes there comes a chance to tweak policy gently but decisively in an altered direction, so that things begin to change, giving people time to change too. Could Brexit help us take back control of this at least?

Here are two questions to which I may not know the answer, but we should ask — at least because the compass must anyway be reset by 2020, and I think the Defra secretary, Andrea Leadsom, knows something needs to be done.

Her farming minister, George Eustice (another dedicated Leaver) has struck me as a man prepared to think outside, if not the box, the cowshed: he’s been talking sparkily recently about Britain’s chance to lead the way in land-stewardship and compassion towards farm animals; and on new approaches to underwriting this part of our economy.

Only a monster would deny there should be CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses; but chicken factories, cow prisons, industrial wastelands and giant system-built housing estates are on the march across our countryside.

Brexit is a chance for Britain to reshape its farming subsidies in ways that protect the land and use it more intelligently

There’s money here, and money talks, and ministers must stand up to it. Taking back control shouldn’t be from Brussels alone.

Edited extracts from the Times article (paywall)