Today sees the beginning to the NFU’s 2 day annual conference, being held in Birmingham. The event started with an opening address from NFU president Meurig Raymond which was then followed up by a speech from the Defra Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom.
It wasn’t long before Raymond was asking for more action on badgers and bTb including an extension of the geographic area where culling could take place. He then went on to make an impassioned plea to allow the continued us of glyphosate. He talked about a new report that the NFU had commissioned ‘Contributions of UK Agriculture’ by Development Economics which suggested that for every £1 invested in British agriculture the country saw a return of £7.40 – you can download the report here. This led him to call for continued farm support / subsidy post 2020.
He also set out a ‘recipe’ for success post-Brexit which consisted of the following three ‘ingredients’
- Access to the Single Market
- Access to labour
- A new agricultural policy which facilitated productive, progressive and profitable farming
A classic NFU / Raymond performance which left me feeling rather uncomfortable, the implication being that if the Government doesn’t listen, then the farming industry will face disaster. You can read his full speech here.
Andrea Leadsom then took to the stage and whilst most, if all all, of the questions that the NFU delegates wanted answering were not I thought there were some interesting little nuggets. (You can read her full speech here.)
She posed the question ‘What kind of industry to be want agriculture to be post-Brexit?’, to answer this she said Defra would be guided by 5 principles:
- Trade – tariff-free and frictionless cross-border trade with Europe.
- Productive and competitive – improved skills, leadership and innovation with technology
- The Environment – a fair return from the market but incentivised and rewarded for caring for the environment
- Trust – New agricultural support policy which promote animal and plant health and welfare
- Resilience – to commodity prices fluctuations, bTb and flooding
Regarding the Brexit negotiations she said “Those negotiations will take time, and change is, of course, inevitable”, prepare yourselves the status quo will not continue.
About the call for seasonal workers she said “we mustn’t forget that a key factor behind the vote to leave the EU was to control immigration”, you can read into that what you will, but I took it to mean that agriculture was going to have to find new ways of solving this problem, she later alluded to the use of new technologies.
When talking about future policies for farm support / subsidies she said “And how do we devise a system of support that properly takes into account the diverse types of farming, and the challenges unique to each? So, for example, how can we ensure a more tailored approach – one that recognises the needs of hill farmers alongside those of arable farmers and protects our precious uplands as well as our productive fenland?”. The use of the language ‘precious uplands’ is important and I think signals again that hill-farmers will be supported in return for looking after the uplands. Interesting she also mentioned the protection of our ‘productive fenlands’ I have written before about how intensive agriculture in the fens is leading to the wholesale loss of the peat based soils (see here). Is this remark a signal that in future these soils must be conserved and not just allowed to oxidise and blow away?
When it came to the environment she said “British farmers don’t only produce world-class food, but as part of that process, they care for and shape some of our most iconic landscapes. Yet, whilst 70% of our land is farmed, just a small percentage of funding is directed towards the provision of these environmental services.”
“So, alongside a fair return from the market, farmers must feel incentivised and rewarded for caring for the environment. The current CAP has improved over recent years, but in trying to do more for the environment, farmers have found themselves confronted with unnecessary bureaucracy.”
“So as we leave the EU, we have an opportunity to take a fresh look at these schemes and think about what mechanisms are needed to promote the twin goals of productive farming and environmental improvement. I want to consider, for example, how we will strike the right balance between national frameworks for support measures whilst tailoring them to local landscapes and catchments.”
This is the clearest articulation of ‘public money for public goods’ stated by Defra to date.
I predict a battle royale now between Defra and the NFU. Yes, Defra will negotiate for access to the Single Market – tariff free, but they won’t cave in over migrant labour and future farm support will be for ecosystem services.
This is not what the NFU wanted to hear but in return Defra will sweeten the bitter pill by extending the badger cull, permit the continued use of glyphosate, will provide bridging loans for those yet to receive their Basic Payment Scheme money and in some circumstances pay farmers who allow their land to flood under the auspices of ecosystem services.
I will be interested to see if anyone else has this take on the two speeches!