The dust is settling following the brutal excision of the Cameron/Osborne cliques from power.
One Department has been knocked down, or split asunder – the Department for Energy and Climate Change. Energy has gone to Business and Industry, Climate Change has gone – where? We await to hear whether it’s merged into Defra, or buried within energy/industry. There’s a clue – Theresa May’s Thinker in Chief and Co-Chief of Staff, Nick Timothy, “dislikes green taxes and high energy costs”.
Defra’s future is by no means assured. The new Secretary of State is Andrea Leadsom. Leadsom, you will recall, was bidding to become leader of the Tory Party and the new PM, on Monday. Yes, just four days ago. Now she has Defra. It feels like a cross between a poisoned chalice and a punishment cell in the workhouse. In the same way that Boris Johnson has been given Foreign Affairs, David Davis has Brexit, Leadsom has been given both the Environmental Sector and the Farmers to deal with/sort out. You can imagine Timothy telling each Brexiteer as they appeared in Number 10 yesterday, on behalf of May (who is too busy to meet them herself)
“You Brex-ed it – now you have to fix it/clean up your own mess. You’ve got 12 months.”
What do we know about Andrea Leadsom, apart from the fact that she thinks people who have children have more of a stake in the future, than everyone else (does that include children themselves?).
This is her speaking in a Guardian Brexit debate in March:
Net we send £9bn a year to the EU, gross it’s £19bn; the remainder we get back in subsidies are things we have to beg for, things we have to co-finance, pet projects of the EU so farmers – yes, they are supplicants asking for roughly 50% back of the money that they paid over in the first place.
On voting to leave the EU, the UK government will absolutely continue in the short term to provide those subsidies whilst we think about what makes sense. And some of the things that would make sense would be environmental trading credits, because at the moment you have farmers who have to do a bit of environmental planning and a bit of farming just to meet the EU requirements.
It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies. That would make a lot more sense for the UK and it’s perfectly possible but only if we leave the EU and sort it out for ourselves.
That bears striking resemblance to something farm minister George Eustice said back in 2012. And there should be no surprise that Eustice and Leadsom come from the same place on farm subsidies – as they both worked together on the radical right “Fresh Start” group, formulating what a post-Brexit Britain would look like. Here are some recent proposals from Fresh Start on farm support reform.
Eustice talked of scrapping Pillar One altogether and ploughing (his word) the money into “transferable biodiversity obligations”, meaning farmers in the productive areas would trade subsidy for environmental obligation – ie no pay but no red tape either. No Red Tape at all. Eusticce suggested Pillar two funds – for agri-environment schemes and so on, would be disbursed on a much wider range of projects, including regional economic policy.
What else can we glean from Leadsom’s past writing on the subject. Nearly ten years ago she wrote this piece
Does Britain need its own farming industry?
I went to a fascinating seminar today on the prospects for the British farming industry. Chaired by Ruth Lea of the Centre for Policy Studies, the guest list was impressive, including some of our most influential farmers, a number of peers, and many members of parliament.
What was most fascinating though is that there was not a single representative of the Government.
British farming is in decline, with most notably the pig industry down 40% since Labour came to power, in spite of no change in the amount of pork consumed in Britain. Farming incomes have been dropping since the 1970s, now with huge disparity between the successful and the failing farms. Capital investment in British farming is in decline.
All this is against a backdrop of some big changes taking place:
– the ‘politics’ of food is changing: we are now more conscious than ever of what we eat in terms of quality as well as ‘food miles’;
– health and welfare standards are increasingly higher in Britain, but not necessarily matched elsewhere in the world, even in the EU – therefore the cost of food production in Britain can be comparativly high;
– climate change means water shortages and floods threaten some of those countries who now export to Britain;
– globally, the increasing demand for bio fuels will compete with the use of land for food production.
I think these changes offer a great opportunity for a revival of British farming… in recent years the work of the Soil Association in promoting organic food has been impressive, and I would like to see British farmers emulate that success.
What do I mean by that? Well, how about seize the initiative and start to promote ‘British produce’ aisles in supermarkets?
How about promoting school trips to working farms? I heard recently of a group of 10 year olds who thought you had to kill a cow in order to milk it! Kids talking about British farming is a sure way to influence where the weekly housekeeping money gets spent.
How about farmers launching a campaign on healthy British food? Perhaps promote a ‘Mark’ that all ‘Healthy British Food’ carries on the label. That would surely get round the confusion over ‘country of origin’ labels.
Finally, the government has to help too… Labour seems only to want British farmers to keep the hedgerows tidy, and ensure that there are butterflies and frogs around for their annual nostalgic trips to the countryside.
The fact is, British farming will cease to exist if it is forced to become merely an extended form of landscape gardening.
How government must help is by providing a level playing field. Imported food must meet the same stringent health and animal welfare standards of British food. Subsidies must be abolished. The trade descriptions legislation that enables Country of Origin to be shown as the last country in which food was ‘processed’ must be changed.
As a final point, to go back to my blog of a few days ago… peripheral activities within the sphere of farming, such as hunting, must be protected as a justifiable element of the whole.
At least in the intervening period, Leadsom appears to have taken more of a shine to butterflies. But the sentiment is clear, abolish subsidies, bring back hunting, and no room for frogs. Untidy hedgerows would also be a step forward from where we are now, but yes I’m clutching at straws.
Agri-Industry insiders website Agra-Europe has taken the unusual step of allowing free access to this opinion piece, that is how urgent they feel the situation is. They have looked at the Fresh Start manifesto and found this quote:
“The agricultural sector in New Zealand can keep the cost of production low and compete in a global export market with the lowest level of government support to agriculture in the OECD at only 1% of farm income. This is only possible with light-touch regulation.”
their analysis of the Fresh Start proposals for farms are thus:
They recommended that “direct payments to farmers in Pillar 1 of the CAP should be phased out, and there should be a parallel reduction in red tape and regulation in order to ensure a globally competitive farming sector.”
In tandem, “Pillar 2 payments for environmental stewardship should be increased with new tradable environmental payments introduced to allow productive land to be more intensively farmed and marginal land to be more focussed on environmental stewardship.”
Ideally, all Pillar 1 payments would be phased out over an undetermined timeframe. Under the Fresh Start scenario, this would “encourage innovation and allow our farming sector to compete in a global market where price volatility and increasing costs of production make reform all the more pressing.”
Unspecified “red tape and regulation” are other key areas earmarked for reduction or abolition altogether. 0% of the resulting cost to businesses coming from the EU.
And in line with the wider priorities from the ‘Brexit Boys’ triumvirate of Johnson, Davis and Fox, Fresh Start seeks “an increase in UK trade with countries outside the EU, through bilateral channels. The Government should build on its recent successes in China and Russia unashamedly promoting British food and drink products in emerging markets.”
Andrea Leadsom has laid out her plans for all to see. The question in my mind, is whether her Boss, Theresa May, will let her have her way.
Clearly this is one of the most disturbing moments in a British history if you are someone who cares about the climate change, biodiversity and animal welfare. That an ill-informed, climate sceptic who can’t wait to bring back hunting is in charge is truly devastating. DECC was abolished I a day. For god’s sake these people don’t even know what job they are getting until the day, and then immediately have the arrogance and ignorance to make sweeping changes before the ink is dry on their contracts, the question is what do we do to stop this madness – this is not just a few years of mus-management – we have grown used to that. This is the very future of our planet!! We just cannot let this bunch of right wing, arrogant, ignorant, ideologically driven upstarts cock it all up. Things are bad enough – as witnessed by the latest government report – ‘UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report’ ( yes the same government that the May woman is now leading – and I never thought I would say I miss Cameron!!) – they can only get incredibly worse and we cannot just witness it and do nothing. I can talk to my MP till I’m blue in the face but she will just smile and then talk the Tory talk with the green spin and it is all ********s. I just hope we can somehow harness the energy there is around now to really do something to redress the terrible imbalance – it is not people in politics ( with one it two exceptions, who know how we should proceed with the environment, education, health etc so we should be taking ipthe iniative – though heaven knows how!!
Aw gawd Miles. Here we go. Conflating wildlife conservation and animal welfare (free-range livestock destroy wildlife habitat), pay more for our groceries (10% expend of our income on food) to reflect enviro impact of food production but not impact those on lower incomes (20% expend of their income).
Any govt loves the environment but has a keen interest on keeping everybody fed affordably.
At the prices we are prepared to pay for our food (cheaper NZ lamb is what consumers want even in peak UK lamb season), the two matters tradeoff against each other.
Leadsom is basically talking about land share:spare. We even get the meanings wrong – it’s not sparing for nature, it’s sharing land with nature i.e. organic lower yields etc while productive land is spared for high productivity food production using smarter, reduced input farming with better technology. Here’s a good piece on it https://www.theguardian.com/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2011/sep/02/farming-biodiversity-conservation-nature-reserves
Thing is, where we live in the crowded south east is also the best agric land – so you can’t have your skylarks and ‘cheap’ food. You just have to spend your weekends in the skylark-infested marginal uplands for your wildlife. Two many false trails being laid that end in blind alleys – the more honest we are, the better we can learn to deal with it.
thanks Rob. But I have not conflated anything – I have (valiantly) resisted commenting on any of Leadsom’s previous pronouncements. I have merely laid out for all to see, what she is saying. I have certainly made my views very clear in the past, on the faults of the CAP and the pros and cons of sparing vs sharing. Those debates are hardly new on here.
As for food costs – the main factor determining them will be what happens to the pound, as a weaker pound makes imports more expensive. We’ve already seen a de facto devaluation against the Euro of nearly 10% and we havent even started the Brexit process yet. The other factor is worldwide food production, which itself is governed by things like the weather and geopolitics.
Not you Miles, you are purely the apolitical conduit (!). I mean this letter conflating the matters I mention (which the commenter above me does so in their first sentence) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/14/post-brexit-farming-subsidies-must-protect-nature-84-groups-say?CMP=share_btn_tw
This letter deserves an impartial non-partisan posturing stance. Yes, who has the time..
I wouldnt go quite that far – there is politics in me, just not party politics.
Yes I expect the letter was rapidly pulled together and written so as to achieve maximum sign on.
I’ll leave it to you to deliver the riposte I mean response.
I’m not convinced Leadsom is aware of the land sparing/sharing debate. I think she sees it more in terms of food production without red tape. But it may be heading towards similar points, from different perspectives.
Rob – just to query one point you make: ”…so you can’t have your skylarks and ‘cheap’ food’. Isn’t it correct that both Loddington and Hope Farm (particularly the latter) have shown that you can increase farmland bird densities while concurrently increasing farm yields? In other words, whilst it is true that farmland bird population densities have declined as yields have increased as a rule across Europe, this is not an unbreakable rule. My point is that one need not chose between high yield or farmland birds – GWCT and RSPB have shown that with skilful farm management you can increase yields and farmland bird populations. This doesn’t reduce the importance of the land sparing / sharing framework, all it means is that if you go down the sparing route, you can still retain – or even increase – some elements of farmland biodiversity in higher-yield farmland. What you can’t do in that high-intensity farmland is accommodate habitat specialists – your bisons, beavers, bearded tits. Those things can be accommodated in the land sparing bits.
Thanks Steve. It strikes me that there are three levels of nature in relation to a land-use like farming, and beyond – two are real, one is part real and part potential. The first level depends on what I think of as the fabric of the landscape – hedgerows, ponds, ditches, tracks with flower-rich verges, copses and field margins of different kinds. The second level you could call the “old semi-natural”, the last vestiges of the previous farmland – arable fields rich in “arable weeds” and the now rare end of the farmland bird spectrum (and for that matter the arable animals like harvest mouse); wildflower meadows, lowland and upland heaths and bogs, ancient woodlands, fens etc. And then the third level on top of that goes beyond the farmed landscape into rewilding of various different kinds, from the most “pure” form with predators, through different levels including where Beavers have returned or Wisent have been brought in, through to the Knepp or Ennerdale approaches. I think this is a useful way of htinking about nature and farming, when it comes to working out what sort of a system of regulation, incentive and funding might support it.
I agree with much of Steve Jones comment above – the idea that we have to choose is between high yield and farmland wildlife is a classic false dichotomy. Whilst the work at Loddington and Hope Farm has demonstrated that farmland bird numbers can be increased without impacting upon yield or profitability (and the former doesn’t always mean the latter), there is also some work that suggests that carefully planned and delivered ‘ecological intensification’ can actually increase crop yields. (http://www.ceh.ac.uk/news-and-media/news/ecological-intensification-increases-farm-yield-research-shows)
Precision farming, particularly yield mapping is enabling growers to make more informed decisions on how to increase the bottom line, and as Pywell et al and others have demonstrated, there is a lot of scope within the intensive broadacre landscapes of the UK for the employment of some win-win solutions.
thanks very much Joe.
You are right to call me on that. I should have said ‘it is damn hard to have your skylarks and…’. I read the whole GWCT/RSPB paper and it’s positive stuff – here’s the pdf https://www.scribd.com/document/289080580/20-years-of-farmland-bird-research-in-Bird-Study-via-GWCT-and-RSPB
But the key phrase you use is ‘with skillful farm management’ – something not yet explored by the majority of farmers for a whole host of reasons – some of which I touch on here http://robyorke.co.uk/2016/07/finding-agora/
I’m pushing thses matters towards farmers themselves – access to the positive research bypassing the NGOs – who themselves are part of social science issues around this whole subject.
Unfortunately intensively farming the best land for food production will not do. Soil is a living medium and has to be managed responsibly. Already there are projections that (at the present rate of ‘progress’) we have between 60 and 100 harvests left in this country. You simply cannot allow a laissez faire attitude to cropping. Add to that the pressure for house building which now outranks protection for best and most versatile soils……………….
thanks Gwil. The idea that we can adopt a no holds barred (no regulation) approach to intensive agriculture, including introduction of GMOs, is something Owen Paterson has been pushing for a while now. That presupposes that we actually need to increase our overall level of food production, which is highly debatable in itself. We have the most, or second most (after the Netherlands) intensive agriculture in Europe already. And we still waste a ridiculous amount of home produced food.
Gwil and Miles. Read this and tell me that http://www.economist.com/technology-quarterly/2016-06-09/factory-fresh this is terrible ‘intensive’ farming. We must get over the semantics of the word. The whole point is that technology (putting aside the ownership issues around corporations’ patents) can reduce impact on soil, less pesticides via spot spraying drones etc. Terrible for our bucolic image of farming but arguably good for the environment.
Innovation is being stifled at the moment and this results in subsidies keeping inefficient farmers going with resultant impact on the environment. I’ll make no friends with my farming friends on that comment but society must take responsibility for its own actions re food waste before deciding what we want to pay farmers to provide in the way of landscape, food, wildlife, energy etc.
Now, i must go and do some work.
Agree re Food Waste – it’s all the way through the supply chain (or is it now called the Value Chain – I am easily confused) but consumer choice is a big factor.
Precision farming certainly is to be applauded. Regarding Ecomodernism – I have written about that particular set of “sunlit uplands” before.
Are High Nature Value farmers “inefficient” though? Depends on what we think they ought to be providing society, in return for our support.
What can we expect regarding the disastrous maize biofuels project, which gives a paper increase in claimed energy frm renewables, while inflicting real environmental damage?
I’ve also been wondering that Paul.
Given Theresa May’s chief of Staff Nick Timothy’s views on green energy, Maize for biofuel might be in the firing line. It’s policy basis also derives from the EU Renewable Energy Directive.
Could be a good one to probe with a parliamentary question, once we know who is in place at Defra, or indeed whether Defra survives in its current form.
I would have hoped that we would have been able to have had a discussion about farm subsidies without such a hiatus. Hey hoe. It was however, within our power to decide how Pillar 2 of the CAP was used under the broad headings in the Rural Development Programme. That this was a badly monitored waste of money (as is likely to be revealed) for ecosystems related to agriculture and forestry is an indication of how our Governments (devolved and otherwise) shrugged off responsibility for nature protection in a process of neoliberalistion whereby recipients of scheme funding linked inevitably to extractive activities were presumed to fulfil state obligations. Disastrous, but it did mean that Governments didn’t have to cough up much in the way of additional funding.
What I found depressing about the letter was the presumption of those 85 signatories that our wildlife has to continue in an enforced coexistence with farming, even in land sparing, rather than be given the undisturbed freedom of areas of their natural habitat, as is the case in many European countries, whether they are EU members or not, and where that land is part of a state owned national protected area system. So if there is to be public money available for our wildlife, lets spend some of that directly for wildlife on the basis that it should be free from agricultural disturbance, rather than giving it all to farmers in having to pay them to be nice to nature.
Thanks for the update, Miles – looks like my prediction might come to pass that the UK will become an ecomodernist experiment with farmers allocated to the sparing or sharing side of the equation according to a contour lottery: http://smallfarmfuture.org.uk/?p=1034. But I’d urge caution in relation to some of the more enthusiastic comments here about land sparing and the marvels of high tech precision farming. Ben Phalan, author of the study on land sparing cited in the link from Rob Yorke, has written this plea to stop using the sparing/sharing debate as fodder for wider political positions about large/intensive or small/extensive agriculture: https://ideas4sustainability.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/towards-better-interpretation-of-land-sparingsharing-studies/ (see also Joern Fischer’s various comments on the issue on the same site). And I’m sceptical that Brexit will suddenly stimulate lots of high tech innovations from farmers (drones, robots etc.) – withdrawal of government support seldom stimulates innovation, it fosters monopolies, short-termism and the entrenchment of people sticking to what they know works. Meanwhile, surely we can’t talk about keeping food ‘affordable’ without linking the discussion to the affordability of housing. To my mind the auguries point to a neoliberal perfect storm brewing here – bad for nature, bad for farming, bad for poor and not-so-poor people wanting to feed and house themselves decently.
Thanks for the update, Miles – looks like my prediction might come to pass that the UK will become an ecomodernist experiment with farmers allocated to the sparing or sharing side of the equation according to a contour lottery: http://smallfarmfuture.org.uk/?p=1034. But I’d urge caution in relation to some of the more enthusiastic comments here about land sparing and the marvels of high tech precision farming. Ben Phalan, author of the study on land sparing cited in the link from Rob Yorke, has written this plea to stop using the sparing/sharing debate as fodder for wider political positions about large/intensive or small/extensive agriculture: https://ideas4sustainability.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/towards-better-interpretation-of-land-sparingsharing-studies/ (see also Joern Fischer’s various comments on the issue on the same site). And I’m sceptical that Brexit will suddenly stimulate lots of high tech innovations from farmers (drones, robots etc.) – withdrawal of government support doesn’t stimulate innovation, it fosters monopolies, short-termism and the entrenchment of people sticking to what they know works. Meanwhile, surely we can’t talk about keeping food ‘affordable’ without linking the discussion to the affordability of housing. To my mind the auguries point to a neoliberal perfect storm brewing here – bad for nature, bad for farming, bad for poor and not-so-poor people wanting to feed and house themselves decently.
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