Relatively new Farming Minister and Lib Dem David Heath is making an impression in the farming world, with a couple of policy shifts which I think it’s worth drawing to your attention.
Heath likes making use of the pages of Farmers Weekly and is becoming a regular in that august organ. Strange that he was a parliamentary consultant to WWF in the 90s, before joining Parliament in 97 after a career as an optician.
Heath, MP for part of the Somerset Levels ( in a marginal seat, his majority is just 1819), has announced that river dredging is “Top of the Agenda” and that Defra is to relax the rules allowing farmers to dredge ditches and river channels to reduce field flooding. This is partly about the EA having had their budget cut so severely there is no one left to drive the digger, so farmers are doing it for themselves. I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether this dredging free for all means the UK is in breach of the Water Framework Directive, since the Government is currently working out whether/how to opt of out of it in the future.
Heath has also indicated he is sympathetic to a return to stubble burning – remember those days when huge clouds of smoke wafted slowly across the late summer countryside? Getting nostalgic for that unforgettable acrid smell that clings for days afterwards? But this time it’s to benefit the environment, according to a bunch of agronomists who want to use it to control blackgrass that has developed resistance to herbicides. Their argument is that burning the blackgrass will be more environmentally friendly because it will lead to reduced herbicide use. Hmm – where have heard this argument before – oh yes, GMOs.
Heath’s boss Own Paterson is expected to announce he is going gung ho for GMOs later this week and will try and shift the current GMO-sceptical position of the EU. The Prime Minister has already stolen O-Patz’s thunder, so it seems certain that a new pro GMO stance will be adopted, and will be thrown into the melting pot of negotiated positions on all things European. Clearly the new “pro-science culture” the Government is adopting is being selectively adopted by Paterson, who recently confirmed suspicions he is a climate denier, on Radio 4 Any Questions, when he aligned himself with James Delingpole’s position.
So prepare yourself for a farming back to the future where farmers have free reign to dredge just like back in the good old days of Internal Drainage Boards (bye bye Ratty), stubble burning returns to the summer countryside, and GMO crops become the norm. And please don’t mention climate change. Or Biodiversity.