Japan’s agricultural law offers British politicians a fine model in social, environmental and health terms

Lancashire organic farmer Tom Rigby (right, campaigning for all those affected by organophosphates used in agricultureposted a link to a most interesting July article by Jonathan Baker, currently working for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA). JB is ‘driven’ to better understand what he sees as a strategic challenge for the land use sector: how to provide food in a sustainable way (full text below). He opens:

“If Michael Gove gave you a piece of paper and asked you to draft the UK’s forthcoming Agriculture Bill I imagine you, like me, wouldn’t know where to start. This is partly to be expected, we’ve not had to do any such thing for almost 40 years. For this reason, and although the contexts are in many ways different, it is worth looking at how the Japanese approach this problem”.There have been two Basic Laws relating to agriculture in the post war era. The first Agricultural Basic Law came into force in 1961 and was focused on increasing production and maintaining the post WWII land reforms. It also looked at increasing the incomes of rural populations who were starting to be left behind by the rapidly developing urban centres. The current Basic Law – well worth reading – is less than ten pages long. This is the pdf I found, which lists many amendments – the 1999 version?

In social, environmental and health terms it offers a fine model for British politicians to follow today.Scrolling forward, in the early 1990s it was recognised that the situation had changed, driven by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) facilitated Uruguay Round and reforms of the EU’s CAP and US agricultural systems. Jonathan recounts that an Investigative Committee on Fundamental Issues in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Industry was set up and reported in 1998, outlining four major ‘changing conditions’ to be addressed:

  • Falling self-sufficiency rates – driven in part by richer consumption habits.
  • Reduced agricultural land and aging farmers.
  • Loss of vitality in rural areas.
  • Changing public awareness with consumers having greater interest in stable and safe food and concerns about environmental and cultural sustainability.

In 1999 debates started in the national Diet and a number of key features of the ‘Basic Law on Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas’ emerged and ultimately were put into the final law:

  • The law would be divided into food policy, agricultural policy and rural area policy.
  • The law would create four basic principles
  • A ‘Basic Plan’ would be created and this would be revised every four years. The Plan would have to be consistent with the law and specifically the four basic principles.
  • The law stipulated the responsibilities of the different levels of Government, farmers, consumers and businesses involved in the food chain.

The four principles are:

  • Securing a stable food supply – Article 2 notes the ‘unstable factors’ in world food trade and talks about the importance of stockpiles of food and maintaining Japanese agricultural production. The law requires the creation of a food security ratio that must be published annually and should be improved over time. The current Basic Plan includes a self-sufficiency potential ratio.
  • Fulfilment of multifunctional roles – Article 3 refers to ‘the multiple roles that agriculture plays through food production in rural areas, from the conservation of national land, water resources and the natural environment to the formation of a good landscape and maintenance of cultural tradition’. These multifunctional rules ‘shall be fulflilled sufficiently for the future’.
  • Article 4 is not about environmental or cultural sustainability, but about ensuring that agriculture remains viable, that there is sufficient workforce and infrastructure.
  • Development of rural areas – Article 5 talks about the importance of rural areas and their ‘conventional role as primary food supplier and the multifunctional roles’.

The rest of the law sets out a series of policy areas (women in agriculture, food safety) and high level policy objectives.

We add news of urban developments – roof-top agriculture on Tokyo’s highrise apartments here:

Jonathan ended “The 1999 Basic Law marked quite a big change, creating a five year planning cycle, broadening out the objective of agricultural policy and focussing more on what the consumer wanted. The law also codified the idea that sectoral (food and agriculture) and regional (rural) policies should be distinct and although its questionable the extent to which this has happened it set a framework that is now starting to be used. This was the start of the liberalisation of agriculture that is now entering its late phase”.

About Jonathan Baker: I currently work for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) as a Senior Land Use Policy Adviser. My job involves working with officials, stakeholders and members on improving and informing land use policy with a focus on conservation. I also provide advice to CLA members as needed. I come from a research background and have worked in consultancy and Government on environmental and land use policy. I studied environmental science at Bath Spa and Environmental Technology at Imperial College London. I’m driven to better understand what I see as the land use sector’s two strategic challenges; how to provide food in a sustainable way and how to create business models for non-food production. I am also a Fellow of the Centre for Evaluating Complexity across the Nexus (CECAN) and bring a analytical point of view to my current role and to the Scholarship. My project will look outside the EU to see how other developed countries delivering environmental enhancements from private land. I hope to expand our sector’s horizons and bring back lessons, ideas and experiences to inform the ongoing debates about post-Brexit land use policy. I am grateful to the John Oldacre Foundation and Nuffield for providing me with the opportunity to study this important and timely issue.

 

 

 

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More land is growing crops free from genetic modification and synthetic pesticides

Lancashire organic farmer, Tom Rigby (right) draws attention to news that In England, DEFRA data shows a 47.2% increase in land in organic conversion.

Latest government figures on UK organic food production show the sector is continuing to thrive on the back of strong organic food sales, says organic licensing body OF&G.

DEFRA’s organic farming statistics show that while the amount of organic land fell by 3.6% in 2016, the amount of UK farmland in organic conversion rose by more than 22% – rising to 47.2% in England. Their organic farming figures are available here.

Permanent pasture continues to account for the biggest share of the country’s organic area. The number of organic cattle increased on the previous year, while organic pig numbers rose by 5% and organic poultry numbers have shown the largest increase, rising by 10% to just over 2.8m birds

Roger Kerr, chief executive of the largest organic farming certifier OF&G (below right), said:

“The amount of land in organic conversion shows that farmers are recognising the huge potential from the sector to make a profit from farming organically.

“Industry figures show that the UK’s organic food sector is the only food sector showing consistent growth, with increases of between 7 and 10% reported this year. And with demand for organic products in the UK and globally predicted to grow again this year, we know UK farmers, growers and processors are attracted to organic production”.

Mr Kerr ends: “As demand increases for quality food, more support is needed to ensure UK production increases, and organic is pointing the way forward. We need more domestic production to feed the growing demand for quality food and organic has a critical part to play in that.”

 

 

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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”.

 

 

 

No fair trade here: cream and butter prices rise but farm-gate prices for milk don’t

The Financial Times reports that a reduction in the milk supply, due to a cold spring and dairy farmers leaving, has led to prices of butter and cream rising 18.7% in the year, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. But despite “record prices” for wholesale cream and butter in recent weeks, the National Farmers Union point out farm-gate prices for milk have continued to fail to keep in step.

BBC online reports that Arla’s CEO Peter Tuborgh said producers “put the brakes on” in 2016, in the wake of previous overproduction of milk and consequently lower prices and Michael Oakes, chairman of the National Farmers Union dairy board, added that UK supply had fallen partly because so many farmers “decided enough was enough during that downturn”. Many farmers have often had to sell milk for less than the cost of producing it and so – understandably – the number of UK dairy producers has fallen.

The National Farmers’ Union said the “constant boom-and-bust dairy market cycle” helped “no-one, most of all farmers” and expressed concern about the lack of strong upward movement in the farm-gate milk price.

Milk buyers are worried about milk volumes falling but, the NFU spokesperson added, “Confidence within dairy farming is at an all-time low [due to] mistrust in the market dynamics and suspicion about how milk buyers are treating their supply base, coupled with the lack of direction on the impact of Brexit on the dairy sector.”

Post-Brexit, will the UK government ensure that ‘ordinary’ farmers receive a fairer proportion of the agricultural payments and turn away from the practice of subsidising offshore companies and rich individuals?

And will the Groceries Code Adjudicator, who places great emphasis on scrutinising supermarkets give more time to food producers and address the issue of unjust farmgate prices?

 

 

 

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The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers: 2003 and 2017

In August 2003 the Farmers Guardian reported that a series of industry-wide meetings, called by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF), were held for a year to discuss the true costs of milk production.

Members of RABDF, with independent research consultancies and dairy farmers, produced a report showing that the cost of milk production is much higher than current estimates state. The true cost of milk production was found to be between 20 and 23p a litre, rather than the 18p currently being paid. Dairy farmers were working an average 70-hour week with only a few days holiday each year and low milk prices have left them earning just £2.90 an hour.

The chairman, Tim Brigstocke, said that problem areas were fixed costs, farm overheads, farmer remuneration, family labour costs, pensions and staff development had not been included in current assessments.

The new guidelines proposed by the RABDF included gross costs such as feed, forage, bedding, and vet’s bills; operational costs like labour (£10 an hour deemed a reasonable figure to factor into the equation, given the level of skills required in dairying), machinery, depreciation, property-related, unpaid family labour and resource costs: rent, quota leasing and finance costs. Mr Brigstocke urged producers to adopt these guidelines to arrive at a realistic picture of how much their businesses were costing them.

A Lancashire dairy farmer contacted this site to voice concern about the very differently focussed RABDF of 2017 and its ‘elitist style’.

RABDF, now described as the ‘the new secretariat to the Trehane Trust’, is advertising its October conference in Birdcage Walk London for ‘leading farmers’ who are to be granted the opportunity to ‘rub shoulders’ with policy makers and supply chain leaders. The conference will be held in conjunction with the Trehane Trust which funds research into all aspects of the dairy supply chain, from production to new product development and consumer trends in the dairy sector – but the crucial subject of farmgate prices is not listed.

One of the invited speakers at this most opulent venue (above) is from Arla – a downward trend-setter, announcing a price reduction for the April payment – the first milk price drop in 2017 by a major UK milk buyer. A further online search will reveal that this company has closed several processing plants making hundreds of workers unemployed, though the net profit of the Arla Group last year was €356 million.

The key findings of Trehane Fellowship recipient Mike Houghton of Andersons will be included. He has been researching future options and opportunities for the sector at home and abroad, using his contacts in Canada and the USA to find out more about their support systems, in particular crop insurance schemes and futures markets and consulting key people within the legal profession and the insurance industry to obtain a different perspective on the topic. 

Tim Brigstocke is now RABDF’s policy director

When this ‘Business and Policy Conference’ has taken place, will he help the RABDF to come down to earth in the interests of the average dairy farmer – arguably an endangered species?

In the interests of food security, will the RABDF present the facts about rising costs but low and fluctuating farmgate prices to the complicit policy makers and supply chain leaders, with whom wealthy farmers are being invited to rub shoulders?

Or will they continue their failed policies as the dairy sector continues to decline and foreign importers take over?

 

 

 

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Dairy farmer writes: input costs have soared as farmgate price drops

Another Lancashire dairy farmer (a few of her herd, right) responds:

Not only was the average price UK dairy farmers received for their milk in 2015 lower than it was when the MMB was abolished 24 years ago, but it was 24% lower, and that was before farm gate prices last year suddenly plummeted by 1/3. 

No producer ought to be losing vast sums of money for their hard effort when producers are mainly exploited by those who can.

The cost of basic utilities and inputs required to produce that milk has risen:

  • water has increased by 137% in the same period since 1994 due to  companies being able to automatically raise their prices annually by the rate of inflation
  • similarly the price of electricity over that period increased by 207%  
  • Animal feed costs up 58%  
  • fertiliser up 114%
  • and diesel 224% 

and that is another reason that the number of dairy herds in the UK has collapsed – as input pricing is so much out of kilter with the farm gate price.

 

 

 

Food security 10: British dairy production at risk

 

Pre-empting qualms about the health impacts of dairy products, from Lancashire dairy farmer Tom Rigby’s retweet we note the findings of professor of food chain nutrition Ian Givens and his colleagues from Reading University, Copenhagen University and Wageningen University in the Netherlands. They analysed 29 studies involving 938,465 participants from around the world undertaken over the last 35 years, including five done in the UK. “No associations were found for total (high-fat/low-fat) dairy and milk with the health outcomes of mortality, CHD or CVD,” they said. In fact, they added, fermented dairy products may potentially slightly lower the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

A new hazard is being added to the long-term imposition of payments below the cost of production

As dairy farms close, due to unviable prices, the distances between farms is growing and providing a tanker to collect their milk is too expensive. The East Anglian Times reports that Muller has announced that it will close its Chadwell Heath depot in London and no longer collect the milk from 18 dairy farms across Norfolk, Suffolk. Essex and Kent. This follows the closure of two Scottish plants by Muller last year.

The 18 dairy farms who are to have their milk supply contracts cancelled by Muller have been given 12 months from the end of March to find new buyers for their milk at a price that offers them a viable future – one commentator adds gloomily:

“Given current trends it won’t be long before it will be possible to drive from Dover to York without seeing a single dairy cow”.

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A brief history for visiting readers from other countries (left, Jan-May)

The number of dairy farms across the UK has fallen dramatically since the Milk Marketing Board (MMB) was abolished in I993 by a Conservative government that saw it as “anti-competitive”.  In the period 2013-2016 alone, Business Matters reports that 1022 farms have closed. The MMB was created by an act of Parliament in the 1930s to ensure that all UK dairy farmers were paid the same price for their milk and that they shared milk collection charges regardless of where they farmed. This was to stop dairy farmers being bullied by over-powerful dairy companies who were establishing virtual regional monopolies.

Since the MMB was broken up, farmers have had to negotiate terms with processors individually and this ‘free trade’ has benefitted the milk processing companies and now the average price UK dairy farmers received for their milk last year was lower than it was when the MMB was abolished 24 years ago – and that is the main reason that the number of dairy herds in the UK has collapsed.