Category Archives: EU

‘No Deal Brexit will devastate our food, farming and landscape’: farmer & MEP Phil Bennion

Arable farmer and West Midlands Lib Dem MEP Phil Bennion spoke out at a ‘Brexitime’ question and answer session with local farmers in Stratford-upon-Avon on August 6th. 

He said that a particular threat to farming came from the Agriculture Bill which plans to abandon the Single Farm Payment system as used under the CAP, with nothing to replace it. “There are no ifs and buts, the basic payments scheme will be phased out. Michael Gove’s idea was to replace it with extra environmental schemes but he clearly had not read WTO rules. It is very clear that under WTO rules environmental schemes need to compensate for direct costs only, they cannot provide any income.

“If we have no income support. which this draft bill says. while the Americans are getting it, the Europeans are getting it, pretty well all our competitors are getting it, there is absolutely no way we can make farming pay. 

“Emergency funding is within WTO rules – but under the rules you can’t carry on giving emergency funding forever. The Americans are doing this at the moment. Our (Lib Dem) policy keeps a basic payment scheme whether we leave the EU or not. A basic payment scheme is one of the only ways of supporting farm incomes within WTO rules.”

“There is likely to be a lot of land abandonment. Most of the farmland round here, the field sizes are not suitable for agribusiness arable farming and unless the regulations on clearing hedges and cutting trees down are scrapped, I can’t see that changing.”

Former NFU chief economist Sean Rickards, also a panellist at the event, gave a bleak assessment of the effect of the post Brexit trading environment on UK farming: “The government has already made it clear that (after Brexit) they are going to let the rest of the world in without tariffs and large sections of British agriculture couldn’t compete. Beef and sheep sectors will shrink quite severely, horticulture will struggle with labour issues and therefore the only sectors that will continue will be arable farms on an increasing scale to compete.

“The character will change, the size will change and the structure will change. It will be a smaller industry operating on an industrial scale and the remoter parts of the country will see farming almost wiped out.”

The panellists predicted that No Deal due to happen on October 31st would lead to the collapse of the sheep and beef sectors in particular, with prairie style arable agribusiness likely to be the only sector to survive, providing fields were huge without hedgerows. Phil Bennion said: “We export nearly 40% of the lamb we produce, and up to 96% of that goes to the EU. The tariffs under no deal would render this trade non-viable.

“Our lamb, Welsh lamb and English lamb is a premium product eaten fresh over a season, so there has not been a need to cold store it. It is eaten not just here but in France and all over Europe. New Zealand lamb fills our close season. With our lambs coming to market in the autumn it is inevitable that prices will crash if the EU market is closed off. There is nowhere to cold store it to stop this from happening. I believe the trade will collapse, yes, to a fraction of its current size. There will be a lot of mutton around and domestic prices will slump. Farmers won’t be able to get rid of enough of it to stop a price crash.”

After the meeting Phil said it was important to debunk the claims made by the Brexit Party and many Tory MPs that under GATT Article 24 we could just carry on trading with the EU as before.

“This myth keeps being repeated without being challenged. The fact is that the EU cannot choose under WTO rules whether or not to impose tariffs on our exports to ‘punish’ the UK, it has to impose them. It would also be illegal under WTO rules for the UK government to pay the tariffs to bail the farmers out.

“It is a disaster. If Boris does what he is threatening and refuses to go if he loses a vote of no confidence then I think we should walk into Parliament and tell him to go.”

A streamed recording of the whole meeting can be found (temporarily 90 degrees on its side!) here:  https://www.facebook.com/stratford4europe/videos/1054525424743135?s=644926487&v=e&sfns=xmo

 

 

 

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The future of food, post Brexit

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New Food interviewed Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London, to discuss the implications of Brexit on the food industry and ascertain his opinion on the future of food for the UK

Edited extracts

How could Brexit impact food security for the UK?

It’s uncertain, and could go in multiple directions, but the capacity for disruption to a just-in-time food system is considerable and recognised throughout the industry.

What more should MPs and the wider industry be doing to prepare for life outside the EU (if that happens)?

The priority is to push not just the English Cabinet but leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to face food. Food has barely featured in Brexit discussions so far. This is remiss, indeed astonishing.

Earlier this year, United States Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, Ted McKinney, rather passionately refuted the notion that chlorine-washing chicken is a common practice. His office had set up a Google alert to be triggered if Michael Gove or DEFRA mentioned food safety and trade in the same context. There seems to be a question not simply over whether the practice is safe but whether it takes place at all. What would you have liked to say to Mr McKinney on the subject, given your stance?

Either he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, doesn’t read his own Government’s documents, or doesn’t understand public health. Certainly, hawks in the US food system have long wanted to dismantle the EU’s approach to chemicals, risks, health protection and food standards. They cannot bully the EU – one of the only global bodies that can stand up to USDA and the US Department of Commerce – so the UK leaving the EU is an opportunity to get into another market. Hence statements from Wilbur Ross, US Secretary for Commerce, making it clear he/they will not accept EU-type standards.

SNIP!

“There is an ongoing fight within the Tory Party (and to a lesser but important extent a parallel one in Labour) over different visions for the future of the food system. I am writing about this at present (more will be known by Food Brexit 2018) as a choice of visions: Atlanticists vs neo-colonial (e.g. Commonwealth as Empire 2.0) vs arms-length European vs globalist vs little England vs bioregionalist vs green landscape.

“It’s too early to see which vision will triumph or if there will be a crossover. I suspect the latter, with strong forces for green farming plus cheaper food from abroad. These represent battles over what land is for, food security, price and affordability; i.e. whether a harder version of cheap food policy triumphs alongside other interests”.

To read the article go to https://d6prv7be4nrvy.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/April-2018-Tim-Lang-Press-Release.pdf

 

 

 

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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”.