A tale of two speeches

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

A couple of important environmental Brexit reports

The first of these is ‘Exiting the EU, Not the Environment’ written by Caroline Lucas MP with the help of David Baldock and the Global Justice network.

It summaries 10 environmental challenges and then sets out a 5 point ‘Green Guarantee. The report concludes by listing 153 (out the 1100 EU pieces of legislation which Defra will have to navigate across to UK legislation if there is to be no reduction in environmental protection for the UK once we leave the EU.

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It is a very good document whatever your political persuasion – you can download it here. It should be required reading for all those interested in Brexit environmental politics.

The second report is for the House of Lords European Union Committee and is entitled ‘Brexit: environment and climate change’.

The summary concludes:-

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) faces an enormous challenge as the UK approaches Brexit. Together with the Devolved Administrations, it is responsible for repatriating and replacing the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. Alongside the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) it must also map the extent to which environmental and climate change policies can be preserved through the Great Repeal Bill. Furthermore, Defra will need to design regulatory structures to ensure that environmental protections are enforced as effectively after Brexit as before. Resolving the tensions inherent in these competing tasks will be vital if the Government is to deliver on its commitments to leave behind a better environment than it inherited.

You can download that report here.

There is a lot to be done …….

National Sheep Association – Hard Brexit should not sacrifice sheep sector

There is a letter in today’s Farmers Weekly by Phil Stocker of the National Sheep Association about how the sheep sector could be seriously affected by a hard Brexit and the loss of subsidies.

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There can’t be a hill-farmer in the country who is not deeply worried

Last year the NSA published a document about sheep in the uplands – I don’t agree with all of it but it is good and worth a read – download it here.

A tale of two lambs

I went deliberately to Waitrose yesterday in search of some English lamb mince – what I thought would be straightforwards turned out not to be so. No English lamb at all of any sort was to be found, instead the shelves were full of New Zealand lamb …… This led me to investigate why this might be.

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It is quite complicated! Firstly as a nation we don’t eat that much lamb and mutton – apparently about 5kg per person per year – see here, and we are basically self sufficient in lamb. Defra told us that the national sheep flock in 2015 was estimated to be around 23.1 million animals – see here and Monbiot calculated that sheep occupy around 4 million ha. of land – the majority in the uplands – see here.

So if we are self sufficient in lamb why do we import lamb from New Zealand?

Firstly UK sheep farmers export around the same amount of lamb / sheep products as the UK imports (which mostly comes from NZ). So if we didn’t import lamb there wouldn’t be the supply to meet the demand.

Secondly lamb is a seasonal product, the UK is in the northern hemisphere whilst of course NZ is in the southern hemisphere. As a result their seasons are complimentary. UK lamb is mainly available from June – December, whilst NZ lamb is in season from December to early June.

Thirdly, as a nation we are rather fussy about what cuts of lamb we like to eat, we tend to prefer legs and chops, as the result of this the rest of the meat cuts and products are exported to countries abroad where ‘lesser’ quality cuts are eaten. In addition much more lamb is eaten that mutton in the UK.

Fourthly, is the issue of currency rates. When Sterling is strong then lamb is uncompetitive on the continent and UK exports drop. However when Sterling is strong, this is the time when NZ wants to export lamb to Britain as they get good prices for their products, leading to a potential conflict with UK farmers – see here for an example from Wales.

Conversely when Sterling is weak (as now) lamb becomes competitive on the continent and exports rise, but imports from NZ drop.

Lamb is a favourite Easter food and of course at this time UK lambs are still growing on the hills and in the fields so the lamb that is available is from NZ and this has led to people asking why UK supermarkets don’t stock UK lamb – see here.

Interesting! But there is more …..

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People often complain that lamb is very expensive and why should this be the case? Well a comparison with pigs and pork explains quite a lot. The average sow produces  8 piglets on a four month cycle and each piglet after 5 months will weigh 250lbs and can go to market. Pigs can be kept in a pen measuring 30 x 30 feet. By comparison a ewe can produce 1 – 2 lambs per annum and needs 0.75 acres per animal.

Finally, look how this might change after Brexit – the pound is now very low compared to where it was 7 months ago so conditions are ideal for UK farmers to export to the Continent and elsewhere – both markets come courtesy of the EU Single Market.

If negotiations to secure exporting access to foreign markets takes many years then UK farmers won’t be able to export.

The strategy for sheep farming may then have to change – one option might be, especially in the lowlands, to produce lambs which are less seasonal. For example Dorset Breed sheep can produce lambs throughout the year so an increase in this breed might allow lamb to become available all year round.

Difficult times ahead.

 

 

A plan for Britain?

In case you missed the fuller details here is the 12 point plan that Theresa May announced yesterday regarding the UK’s decision to leave the EU – entitled ‘Plan for Britain’.

  1. Provide certainty about the process of leaving the EU
  2. Control of our own laws
  3. Strengthen the union between the four nations of the UK
  4. Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland
  5. Control of immigration coming from the EU
  6. Rights of EU nationals in Britain and rights of British nationals in the EU
  7. Protect workers’ rights
  8. Free trade with European markets through a free trade agreement
  9. New trade agreements with other countries
  10. The best place for science and innovation
  11. Co-operation in the fight against terrorism
  12. A smooth and orderly Brexit

Pretty disappointing not to see either the environment or climate change specifically mentioned.

The New Economics Foundation published a short response to the speech – here and it suggested that the government’s plan would lead to reduced workers’ rights and watered down environmental protection.

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Donald Tusk, the EU President issued this tweet

Quite a lot of people on Twitter were suggesting that May was trying to ‘have her cake and eat it’, but I guess you have to start  the process somewhere.

There is a long process ahead now and let’s hope it doesn’t just lead to a cliff edge.

 

 

Reaction to Theresa May’s Brexit speech

Various representatives of the farming industry have been expressing their opinions after Theresa May’s speech on Brexit where she clearly stated that we will not be in the Single Market or part of the Customs Union. See here.

Here are the views of the National Farmer’s Union.

Here are the views on a ‘hard Brexit’ (which is what we are getting) from the National Sheep Association.

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Whilst it had been trailed that we would be leaving the Single Market, the reality is now beginning to sink in.

Upland farmers in particular must be in shock.

It is now very difficult to predict what is going to happen next – nothing I suspect until Article 50 is triggered in March and then maybe nothing substantive until a ‘deal’ is done.

That’s a long time to wait immersed in uncertainty.

 

 

 

 

Monbiot in Farmers Weekly

The current edition of Farmers Weekly contains an interview with George Monbiot – here it is

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And here is the editorial

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I was pretty surprised to find this – farming at the moment is really on the back food – looks like there will no access to the Single Market and George Monbiot’s views are now becoming pretty mainstream! Something else for the farming lobby to counter.