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!

What does Andrea Leadsom mean for Dartmoor?

A few days ago I wrote a piece on what I thought the Cabinet re-shuffle might mean  for the environment – see here. The piece posed a lot more questions than answers! Fortunately my friend Miles King has suggested where some of the answers may come from – I recommend you read his excellent blog on the topic here.

Herdwick sheep on Dartmoor

Andrea Leadsom, the new Environment Secretary and George Eustice who has been re-appointed as the Farming Minister in DEFRA are both high profile ‘Brexiters’ and founding members of the Right Wing think tank  Fresh Start Project which was set up in 2011 with the express purpose of re-examining the UK’s role in Europe. Both have spoken and written on how agricultural policy and subsidy should be reviewed. See Miles’ blog for the details.

In essence it has been summarised as follows by Agra Europe:

 “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.”

I have written before about Pillar 1 and 2 payments on Dartmoor before – see here. There are the two agricultural subsidy funds – Pillar 1 funds pay farmers via the Single Payment Scheme now known as the Basic Payment Scheme based upon the area of land they look after and Pillar 2 funds are provided through schemes such as Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) now known as Countryside Stewardship – here farmers are encouraged to carry out positive management to encourage biodiversity and other environmental features.

The thinking of the Fresh Start Project also now helps us to make sense of Andrea Leadsom’s quote “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” , i.e. intensive agriculture in the lowlands and environmental / public benefits in the Uplands.

Sheep and lamb 3

The use of sheep in this quote is very interesting. It implies the density of sheep in the uplands will decline and increase in the lowlands. I can’t imagine any of the Dartmoor farmers that I know or Lake District farmers such as James Rebanks (The Shepherd’s Life) being at all happy with this prospect. It will also open up the row  about whether Dartmoor is over grazed or undergrazed along with the rewilding debate.

However the Fresh Start Project thinking also implies that more money will flow to the Uplands via increased Pillar 2 payments for ‘public goods’, e.g. biodiversity, public access, flood prevention and carbon storage. On the surface this sounds potentially positive for Dartmoor and our other upland areas but goodness knows where it leaves places such as the Somerset Levels or the coastal fringes of Devon and Cornwall.

As ever though the devil is in the detail. Dartmoor farmers currently receive around £7m per annum in agricultural subsidies. Although I haven’t calculated the actual sums, around 50% of this is from Pillar 1 payments and around 50% is from Pillar 2 (it may be 40:60 or 60:40 but it is around these figures). Almost all Dartmoor farmers receive the Basic Payment Scheme monies (Pillar 1) but not all by any means receive Higher Level Stewardship or Countryside Stewardship (Pillar 2).

Removing the Basic Payment Scheme monies before the ‘new’ Pillar 2 monies were in place for all Dartmoor farmers could mean that a significant proportion of Dartmoor’s farmers were left penniless.

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In addition there is currently great uncertainty about the commencement of new Countryside Stewardship schemes (Pillar 2) following the Brexit vote. All new schemes are on hold whilst DEFRA and the Treasury work out how to proceed i.e. are they prepared to 100% fund these schemes once we have left the EU? As a result important and ongoing conservation work is put in jeopardy and those farmers who are trying to re-negotiate their Schemes will see their incomes decline significantly.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director has written about this issue yesterday: Brexit implications for wildlife friendly farming: long-term opportunity, short-term jeopardy – see here.

Worrying and uncertain times in the Uplands ….. and the Lowlands.

 

 

 

The Cabinet re-shuffle and the environment

Yesterday saw a ruthless day of high politics in Westminster as Theresa May appointed her new Cabinet. David Cameron’s Cabinet has been routed and replaced. The new Cabinet consists of 13 ‘Remainers’ and 7 ‘Brexiters’. May has astutely appointed the Brexiters to Departments which will play the key role in negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU.

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 15.45.39This tweet effectively sums up the strategy.

The key Brexit appointments are David Davies who becomes the new Secretary of State (SoS) for Brexit; Liam Fox, SoS for Overseas Trade; Boris Johnson, The Foreign Secretary; Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary; Priti Patel, International Development Secretary; Baroness Evans, Leader of the Lords and Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary at DEFRA

There are some very tough jobs in this list, Davies, Fox and Johnson have entered entirely new territory and will have to all work closely together and work out who is doing what – this will be the area where Britain’s relationships and trade agreements with the EU and the world are negotiated. Grayling as Transport Secretary will have to sort out ‘Heathrow’ and HS2, two hugely controversial infrastructure / environmental battlegrounds. Priti Patel has already stated her desire to scale back international aid and abolish the Department she has now been appointed Secretary of State at! Baroness Evans is the new Leader in the Lords – a chamber where there is not a Brexit majority. Finally Andrea Leadsom’s role is to phase out the Birds and Habitat’s Directives as well as working out what is to replace the current agricultural subsidy system.

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This was fellow Tory MP Nicholas Soames’ tweet regarding Leadsom’s appointment!

The Leadsom appointment was correctly predicted by John Rentoul, the Independent’s Chief Political Correspondent, he suggested that Leadsom would be offered a ‘humiliating junior post’ as a result of her Brexit views and her ‘motherhood’ comments – see here. The DEFRA posting has always been seen as a lesser role (look how little the environment featured in the Brexit campaign for example), but nevertheless it is a Department which will be massively affected by leaving the EU and will in the future be the subject of a great deal of lobbying from  environmental and agricultural interests. Add on top of that the fact that Leadsom has publicly stated that she would go about repealing the ban on fox hunting and that DEFRA is about to roll out a full blown badger cull campaign (of which she is a supporter) the Department will become a lightning conductor of protest and anxiety.

If it is true that she pulled out of the Tory Leadership campaign because of the criticism and ‘black ops’ surrounding her ill-judged and politically naive ‘motherhood’ comments, then that does not bode well for the future, that was a walk in the park compared to what is to come.

To be honest I know very little about Andrea Leadsom, I had never heard of her until she emerged during the Brexit campaign and the Tory Leadership battle but we all know a bit more about her now as a result of the debate around her CV. The only other thing I could find about her environmental views is this, which she said during the Brexit campaign.

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It is worth reading this several times, it contains a lot.

A lot of what though is difficult to understand.

Firstly, the ‘50% back of the money that they paid in the first place‘ implies that farmers are getting back their money – it is in fact tax payers money.
Secondly ‘will absolutely continue in the short term to provide these subsidies‘ will send a shock wave through many farming communities especially those in the uplands who need long term support.
Thirdly ‘those with the big fields do the sheep and those with the hill farms do the butterflies‘ – is this a rewilding agenda or does it mean a better environmental farmed future for the uplands? No doubt the NFU and the Upland Alliance are now in overdrive!

On the positive side the Brexit campaign also said this  ‘in the event of a Brexit vote, £2bn would be earmarked for conservation spending out of the money it expects to recoup from payments to Brussels“. Will this promise be kept or will it go the way of all the other ones?

Today and tomorrow will see the appointment of the Junior Ministers. What will happen to George Eustice, the Farming Minister and vocal Brexiter?  Eustice  said the following during the Brexit campaign “The birds and habitats directives would go….”   and “a lot of the national directives they instructed us to put in place would stay. But the directives’ framework is so rigid that it is spirit-crushing….” and “if we had more flexibility, we could focus our scientists’ energies on coming up with new, interesting ways to protect the environment, rather than just producing voluminous documents from Brussels.”

If we follow the motto ‘You Brexit, you own it’ I would put my money on Eustice staying on in DEFRA and joining Leadsom.

And what of Rory Stewart, the DEFRA minister who dealt with the floods? His fate is perhaps more complicated (he was a low profile ‘Remainer’) because of what has happened to Oliver Letwin who was the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and was leading the government National Flood Resilience Review: Government action to tackle floods see here. He has now been sacked by May and has been replaced by Patrick McLoughlin. With Liz Truss having left DEFRA and with Letwin sacked it only leaves Rory Stewart standing re. the floods. He has done well regarding his brief around flooding so it would make sense if he stayed within DEFRA.

And finally we get to climate change …… The Department for Energy and Climate Change was disbanded yesterday.

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This is what former Liberal Democrat MP and DECC Minister Ed Davey had to say about that

On the surface this looks very depressing – no Government Department dealing with the most pressing issue of our age. However the 2008 Climate Change Act set the plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in place and also set up the Committee on Climate Change which is chaired by Lord Deben (John Selwyn Gummer, the former Tory Secretary of State for the Environment). Lord Deben has yet to comment publicly on the demise of DECC but the legislation to take action remains.

Finally we should remind ourselves of Theresa May’s comments on climate change as they should give us some comfort perhaps? Perhaps also something Chris Grayling should note too regarding Heathrow (a project he supports).

“I am thrilled to see that after years of Conservative pressure, we have finally passed a necessary and ambitious piece of legislation on Climate Change. Britain is the first country in the world to formally bind itself to cut greenhouse emissions and I strongly believe this will improve our national and economic security. To stay reliant on fossil fuels would mean tying ourselves to increasingly unstable supplies which could endanger our energy security and the Climate Change and Energy Bills mark an important step for both the health of our economy and the health of our nation. It is now vital that we stick to these targets. I will continue to put pressure on the Government over the third runway at Heathrow as an extra 222,000 flights a year would undermine our national targets and seriously damage the health of the local community.”