Category Archives: Government

France has announced that at least half of all food bought by the public sector must be organic or locally produced

In February, as sales of organic food continue to rise in France and are reachingrecord levels’ in England, the French Agricultural Minister Stéphane Travert announced the new rules as part of measures to boost the French farming sector, and to improve diets.

Travert (left) said that as France is showing, public procurement can be a “powerful tool” for supporting local and organic farmers and can make an “important contribution” towards improved public health. Public procurement approaches will also support SME producers to gain access to markets, in line with the commitments made in the Industrial Strategy.

The Soil Association’s Policy and Campaigns Manager Rob Percival (right) said the initiative highlights the “power of public procurement” to support better farming practices and improve diets.

He continued: “More ambitious action from Government could further stimulate demand for British, local, and higher quality produce. Michael Gove already has the tools he needs at his fingertips. He must move now to implement DEFRA’s Balanced Scorecard approach across the whole public sector including education and health, while requiring public procurement decisions to place a weighting of at least 60% on quality relative to cost.”

“Gove must seize the opportunity presented by Brexit to implement a procurement policy at least as ambitious as his French counterpart,” Mr Percival added.





Dairy industry collapsing: stabilised by MacDonald government, 61 years later – thrown to the wolves by Margaret Thatcher

In recent years, dairy prices have been on a rollercoaster: at one point in 2015, farmers were receiving less money for their milk than it cost to produce.

Arla has reduced the price it pays farmers for milk. The drop of 1.73 pence follows a small price reduction last month, giving Arla’s British producers 29.27 pence per litre.

Andrew Cozens (below) has a herd of 230 dairy cattle near Stroud, and sells his milk to Arla.

Lucy Taylor interviewed him for Farming Today (Link to audio, Mr Cozens at 8mins 20 secs.

He remembered the 2015 drop to 16p per litre when all the profits saved from earlier years were used up just to keep going. The price drop in January was expected but a further cut in February had been a ‘bolt from the blue’; he added that if the forecasts of further drastic falls in May were correct he would have to sell up and do something else.

NFU Scotland Vice President Gary Mitchell said that dairy farmers in UK have little confidence that the supply chain is fairly sharing returns from high value dairy products with those milking the cows and must deliver fairer returns to milk producers.

UK Milk Prices – The Twenty Years War: an archived 2015 article by Bruce Jobson, published in a dairy breeders’ magazine. Edited extracts:

Farmers were at the mercy of the individual dairies and prices were extremely volatile. In order to establish a fair and coherent system, the British Government established the Milk Marketing Board (MMB) system for England and Wales as well as, separate Boards for Scotland and Northern Ireland Milk Marketing Board. Set up in 1933 the MMBs pooled all the milk and guaranteed a minimum price to farmers, providing them with a regular service, and a regular cheque.

“The system proved successful and capable of withstanding the instability of the markets. The collective strength (remember: divide and conquer) provided a negotiation position and a pricing system that secured the liquid market price”.

Deregulation and privatisation were part of the Thatcher Government ideology. Though milk producers voted 99.9% to maintain the MMB system, Thatcher abolished the MMB in October 1994 in England, Wales and Scotland and in Northern Ireland in February 1995. In a democratic world the wishes of 99.9% of UK farmers not to abolish the MMB system would, and should have, prevailed. As a result, thousands of dairy farmers were subsequently ruined and this in turn created the rise of division; and supermarket power.

According to the Farmers Guardian, the farm gate price fell by 28% in real terms between 1994 and 2010. “With no MMB as the counterbalance, in 2000 our farm’s milk began a price drop of 40% in 18 months,” recalled Anthony Bradley, a former farmer from the Yorkshire Dales. £50,000 per annum “effectively walked off” the family farm. “That was the end for us as dairy farmers.” In December 2014, an estimated 16 dairy farmers per week were leaving the industry. For some, enough was enough.

In 1995, there were 35,000+ dairy farms in the UK, now there are 13,000+ (Dairy industry in the UK: Statistics, 2016).

Will the next British government institute a similar co-operative, retaining the advantages of the MMB and restoring the country’s collapsing dairy industry?




Farming news from analysts and practitioners


Professor Nic Lampkin, Executive Director of the Organic Research Centre,  responded to George Monbiot’s article, Insectageddon: farming is more catastrophic than climate breakdown:

“He is right on many levels, but what he does not state is that we already have an armoury of solutions to resolve many of the problems that are creating this potential ‘insectageddon’:

“At the Organic Research Centre, we undertake cutting-edge science on agroecological approaches, including the provision of habitats on farms to support insects including pollinators and pest predators, to resolve the environmental conflicts caused by unsustainable farming practices. Farming and wildlife don’t need to be separated – they can be integrated to mutual benefit, as they have been for hundreds of years in European agriculture giving rise to the insect and bird populations which are now in decline.

“Our work with farmers shows that many are already engaged in taking up the challenge for the benefit of providing quality food and protecting the environment.

“But this all comes at a cost. Funding for quality research on sustainable farming, focusing in particular on ecological rather than technological innovation and the means to deliver the results on the ground, is in short supply, especially when short-termism by policy makers is the name of the game. Depressingly, the environment is the ultimate loser and farmers get the blame.

“To implement these solutions, we desperately need the will of policy makers and consumers to trigger change”.


The road to food sovereignty

Pat Mooney, Canadian author or co-author of several books on the politics of biotechnology and biodiversity and Nnimmo Bassey, Nigerian architect and environmentalist activist, outline the concerns of three United Nations organisations in the New Internationalist:

Their solution for both climate and food sovereignty: “Dismantle the global industrial agri-food system. Governments must give more space to the already growing and resilient interlinked network of small-scale farmers, livestock-keepers, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, fishers and urban producers who, our research shows, already feed most of the world”. The term ‘peasant web’ is used by the authors to include all these food producers.

The Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) has published a report: ‘Who Will Feed Us?’ (download link). Some remarkable statistics are given in the report and listed here.


In Agricology, another organisation, farmers and researchers are sharing knowledge to work towards more resource efficient, resilient and profitable agricultural systems

Over 20 UK organisations are working (see here) on practical, sustainable farming, regardless of labels. Agricology is led by the Game and Wildlife Trust, The Daylesford Foundation and the Organic Research Centre.

A 2014 seminar covered the important role of earthworms in helping to improve soil structure; the improved drainage and cultivation implications of improved soil structure; the beneficial effects on soil structure and soil organic matter (SOM) levels of introducing cover crops into rotations; improving the farm drainage system and knock-on benefits in relation to drilling and improved black-grass control; the importance of waiting for soil to dry out before working it, avoiding compaction; and the impacts of increasing SOM on soil erosion, run-off and soil structure.

The first seminar in 2018 will cover:

  • Herbal leys and pasture fed livestock in arable systems.
  • Experimenting with ley species mixtures for dairy, forage, and soil health.
  • Integrating livestock to graze herbal leys, cover crops, and manage arable weeds.
  • Diverse leys and building soil organic matter.
  • Monitoring the impact of leys on soil health.

Their conclusion: “In response to increasing challenges including declining soil fertility, problem weeds such as blackgrass and increasing cost of inputs, there is a need to rethink the way we farm. Agricology supports farmers and growers to transition to more resilient, sustainable farming systems, bringing together research and farmer experience on agroecological practices (such as reduced tillage, cover crops and reintegrating livestock) to replace inputs with knowledge”.





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


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”.





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.




Saluting the French President – the first head of state to seek fair food legislation?

Macron: “We should allow farmers not to rely on subsidies anymore and therefore ensure than they be paid a fair amount for their work.”

Reuters reports that President Emmanuel Macron – during a meeting at Rungis international food market in Rungis, near Paris – has called for changes to France’s food chain on Wednesday to ensure that farmers, who have been hit by squeezed margins and a retail price war, are paid fairly.

Macron said that he supported a new type of contract, based on farmers’ production costs

In common with Farmers for Action (NI) which has joined a producer organization (Farm Groups) he is proposing a change in legislation – ‘a new type of contract, based on farmers’ production costs, which would require stronger producer organizations and a change in legislation’.

Prices are currently defined by buyers tempted to pressure prices, leaving many farmers unable to cover their costs.

The changes are part of a wide field-to-fork review promised by Macron during his presidential campaign as a third of farmers, an important constituency in French politics, earned a third of the net minimum wage.

Macron endorsed a proposal from the workshops to create a reversed contract starting from farmers, to food processors and to retailers. This would ensure a better spread of added value along the chain.

Just Food adds: “He promised to shake up the current “balance of power” between producers, food processing firms and retailers. A tougher line would be taken on low prices and discounting and a higher loss-leader threshold for retailers established, Macron underlined . . .

“Legislation will be prepared early next year reversing the current system of food pricing. In future, prices will be calculated on the basis of production costs instead of being imposed by retailers”.

First published here:




A sustainable approach: the production and sourcing of local food


In August a warning was issued by the British Retail Consortium that Dutch tomatoes, Spanish oranges could be held up at ports unless the government quickly smooths out post-Brexit customs processes.

The size of the problem was illustrated last year in a new report from the Royal Society, which shows that the UK is increasingly outsourcing its greenhouse gas emissions.

The editor of the Co-operative News, Anthony Murray, reports that by 2030, the UN wants us to create sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production. At last year’s International Summit of Cooperatives, UN Ambassadors called on the co-op movement to get behind these targets.

He continues: “One of the solutions to creating this sustainable approach is through the sourcing and production of local food. (Typically local food is produced within 20-30 miles of an outlet, but policies vary by retailer). Retail co-ops across the UK support around 1,400 local producers, according to our research into local food initiatives. What has also helped regional co-ops is the relaxing of sourcing rules from the overall Co-op buying group – Federal Retail and Trading Services”.

In another article he reports that Love British Food 2017 was sponsored by Co-op Food, a reflecting co-ops’ commitments to local communities – whether that community is members, suppliers or customers.

In May, the Co-op Group became the first retailer to switch all of its own-brand fresh meat to British suppliers; the retailer only sells British beef, chicken, ham, pork, sausages, duck and turkey and only uses British meat in its own-label chilled ready meals, pies and sandwiches. The only exception is cured meats and continental varieties in ready meals and sandwiches, such as chorizo.