Tag Archives: DEFRA

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East of England where half of the UK horticultural farms are located, as they do not receive single farm payments (now superseded by BPS since Jan 2015) for fruit, vegetables and table potatoes.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.





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”.




Labour MEPs call for action to ensure UK dairy farmers get a fair deal

jude and paul mep farrnersIn February, Labour MEPs called for the EU, UK government and consumers to act to ensure North East farmers get a fair deal.

The price of milk in UK supermarkets has fallen to levels which are unsustainable for UK dairy farmers, with prices dropping from £1.39 to just 89p. See DEFRA’s Forecasts of Farm Business Income by type of farm in England – 2014/15.

The NFU suggests that this is leading farmers to leave the industry with around 60 having left in December alone. Milk in supermarkets in the UK can now be cheaper than water and the price can be below the cost of production. In response MPs have called for an EU-wide review of milk prices.

Paul Brannen, MEP (above with North East MEP Jude Kirton-Darling) for the North East and Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on agriculture and rural development, said:

“It is simply not fair for a dairy farmer to be paid less for a litre of milk than it costs to produce. We must collectively and speedily inject fairness into the relationship between dairy farmers, processors, supermarkets and, importantly, customers . . .

“We also want the UK government to write to the banks encouraging them to be as supportive as possible of dairy farmers during this difficult period, including making loans available.

“And in the longer term we want to see farmers working together more, in order to increase their clout in the market and move themselves up the supply chain, by investing in food processing and the production and marketing of processed products such as cheese and yoghurt, as this is where the money can be made . . .

“We are calling on the British consumer to ask probing questions of their supermarket manager, as they have done in the past about fairly traded products from the developing world, to find out if a fair price has been paid to the farmer for the milk we buy.”

Paul adds: “We want to see more powers given to the Groceries Code Adjudicator, whose role it is to ensure there is fair play between British food processors and retailers, so she can take action across the supply chain.

Balance of trade: reduce imports and increase domestic production if needed

meerkat“Export or die” was the government edict to business after the second world war, but Britain has not had a trade surplus since 1983. Import substitution, with its social, economic and environmental advantages, would be a sounder, safer strategy. 


Ireland is now celebrating the United States lifting of the ban on Irish beef after inspections of their production facilities by the US authorities, for the first time since it was imposed during the BSE crisis more than 15 years ago. There has been drive to sell more grass fed Irish beef overseas, including a ‘push’ into China.

Ireland is the first EU country to be approved and DEFRA hopes that British exports will resume shortly. Tom Fullick, NFU livestock advisor said: “When we get access, the fact that we export to the US sends a very strong message to other potential markets.”

But as a Lancashire farmer writes: “Must producers always jump when the NFU says jump?” 

“Taking too big a risk with such a huge export market leaves producers wide open to volatility. In the case of its sudden withdrawal this would lead to an oversupply bringing prices crashing down for all producers, even those unconcerned with export markets – yet again.

”This happened recently with our unsettled milk market.

”When Russian markets were suddenly no longer available, our own market was flooded. Italy, which didn’t even supply Russia, and often exceeds its quota (without paying the EU super levy), swiftly put huge quantities of cheese into EU intervention forcing it to close early – when intervention was meant to alleviate those who had lost their market suddenly.

“We must produce enough staple food for our own needs and not build aspirations upon on any one big export opportunity that may risk our own food security as a result”. 

Taking water as seriously as the Dutch have done since the Middle Ages and the Arabs did in Mediaeval Spain


Colin Tudge writes:

The August meeting of the Savory Institute in London was on what Zimbabwean biologist Allan Savory calls Holistic Management, which in large part means the management of grassland and of the herbivores that graze on them in ways that steadily increase the carbon content of the soil.

His techniques have been tried the world over – in North and South America; Africa; Australia; and China. The results have been extraordinary – the barren uplands of Ethiopia and the crumbling, bare, loess hills of China, transformed within a few years into lush savannah, without irrigation and all the problems it brings; indeed without civil engineering of any kind except some terracing. Below: transformation in Zimbabwe

savory grassland transformation

Contrariwise, farmers in the US whose land habitually flooded have found that if they manage the higher ground as Savory recommends, the floods no longer occur.

With Britain already caught up in an escalating cycle of flood and drought (almost certainly related to global warming despite the deniers) it seems obvious that Defra and BBSRC ought, if they are truly to justify their support from the public purse, to be taking such ideas very seriously indeed. Overall we ought to be taking water as seriously as the Dutch have done since the Middle Ages and the Arabs did in Mediaeval Spain.

But David Cameron’s great contribution during the floods of a few months ago was to promise unlimited sand-bags (until they run out) and, very properly, to praise the heroic efforts of the rescue services, including the army. Since then we have more discussion on the cost of drains and sea-walls and the rest but no discussion at all as far as I can see on possible changes in agricultural practice – even though there is abundant evidence worldwide and through all of history, and not simply from the Savory Institute, that agricultural practice is key to water management.

In short, with 10,000 years of agricultural experience behind us and all the fabulous resources of modern science, we are repeating the mistakes of all the civilizations of the past that brought out their own demise through lack of land management. Yet all the government has to offer is more of the same, while the upper echelons of academe continue to defend the corporate-government coalition that runs the world, with appeals to market forces to make us richer so we can eventually build more drains and sea-defences.

It won’t do. Intellectuals who seem content to be advocates should, as they say in Yorkshire, think on. People at large should be very angry – much angrier than they seem to be at the sheer awfulness of present day governance and the complaisance of academe. Above all, though, we must take matters into our own hands. We must bring about the Renaissance despite the powers that be. It’s sad that this should be the case, but it is.

Colin Tudge, Wolvercote, August 4 2014.

Extract from a post on the Political Concern website.

The biotech industry retreats from Europe but is courting Africa

owen paterson on return from chinaOn 25-26 February the UK environment secretary Owen Paterson “confirmed” that he will leave flood-ridden Britain to attend an event persuading Africans – in the name of science – to accept GMOs.

As the biotech industry is in retreat in Europe, with corporations like BASF, Syngenta and Monsanto all halting the development and commercialisation of GM crops here, it is looking further afield.

The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), which published a report on GM last June, has organised the event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. An extract from page 9 conveys its stance:

easac text

prof anne gloverThe leading speaker is Professor Anne Glover, Professor of Molecular biology and Cell biology at the University of Aberdeen and Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission.

She is regarded as a pro-GM scientist and MEP Corinne Lepage, a former French minister for the environment, has called for her resignation on the ground of conflict of interest; Professor Glover is a shareholder in a biotech company and set up the firm Remedios, which was named Scotland’s “Best New Biotechnology Company” for Biotech Scotland by its industry peers.

Professor Glover said in an interview with EurActiv on 24 July: “There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health, so that’s pretty robust evidence, and I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food”, adding that the precautionary principle no longer applies.

Will the serious problems of GMOs be outlined?

  • the millions of acres of US farmland choked by herbicide-resistant superweeds,
  • the insect pests who have become resistant to chemicals used,
  • the animal studies that have shown health risks
  • an epidemic of suicides among Indian farmers, plunged into debt from high seed and pesticide costs, and failing crops.

Only two African speakers have been proposed; one is Calestous Juma, who has been based in the US for years and directs the Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an investor in Monsanto and agribusiness commodity giant, Cargill.

There are reports that African farmers and civil society have repeatedly rejected GM crops, some asked their governments to ban them and the last word was given in the Guardian, earlier last year:

On the Keiyo escarpment

On the Keiyo escarpment

Esther Bett, a farmer from Eldoret in Kenya, said last week: “It seems that farmers in America can only make a living from GM crops if they have big farms, covering hundreds of hectares, and lots of machinery. But we can feed hundreds of families off the same area of land using our own seed and techniques, and many different crops.

“Our model is clearly more efficient and productive. Mr Paterson is wrong to pretend that these GM crops will help us at all.”

* On the 14th it was announced that Paterson will no longer be travelling to Africa