Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What is the future for agri-environmental schemes?

What is the future for agri-environmental schemes post Brexit? This blog post considers some of the issues: The fate of agri-environmental schemes

The record of the schemes has been mixed and they are context dependent. The recent emphasis has tended to be on the reduction of species loss. Will there be a greater emphasis in future on agricultural landscapes?

As with other aspects of post-Brexit agricultural policy, there needs to be a debate about what the policy objectives should be and what priority should be attached to different objectives.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Brexit and the food and drink industry

Nick Clegg takes an in depth look at the implications of Brexit for the UK food and drink industry, including agriculture, and concludes that there will be a series of negative impacts. He sets out a number of questions to be answered: Food and drink paper

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Goblygiadau Brexit i amaethyddiaeth Cymru

Yesterday I gave evidence to a Welsh Assembly committee on the implications of Brexit for Welsh agriculture. The paper I prepared for them is reproduced below. The standard of the questioning was high and a central theme was whether Wales would be able to develop a sufficiently differentiated agricultural policy that took account of its special needs and concerns.

Scenarios for the future relationship

Considerable uncertainty attaches to the nature of the relationship between the UK and the European Union after Brexit, and the form of that relationship will have considerable implications for agriculture. A worst case scenario would see tariffs imposed on exports of Welsh sheep meat to France, depressing the domestic price. It is quite possible that there will be a transitional period in which our relationship with the EU would be governed by WTO rules. However, the most likely outcome is a deal in which the UK has access to the single market but has make to concessions in terms of a contribution to the budget and relatively few limits on the access of EU labour, e.g., confining access to those with employment offers or providing for some kind of ‘emergency brake’.

Structural characteristics of Welsh agriculture

Clearly the sheep sector is of crucial importance to Wales which accounts for over a quarter of the total UK population. Cattle are also important with a greater share of the UK total than the share of the land mass. Milk is particularly important in Carmarthenshire. However, the horticulture sector is small so that migrant labour issues are of less significance in Wales.

It is important to bear in mind the importance of farming to the rural economy, particularly in the remoter parts of Wales where a traditional Welsh culture remains strong. The physical geography and climate in these areas is often challenging. Many people who are not farmers depend on the continued success of the farm sector for employment, e.g., agricultural contractors, tree surgeons, mechanics, veterinary practitioners etc.

Farm support

The Basic Payment in its present form and at its current level is to continue until 2020. For many far, businesses, this represents the difference between making a profit and running at a loss. What will happen after 2020 is uncertain, but there is a growing consensus among policy analysts that any future general support should be focused on marginal farms in upland areas where the need is greatest. Large-scale arable farms in East Anglia should be able to be competitive without the large subsidies that they receive at the present.

There is a case for some continuation of general support given that farmers remaining in the EU will continue to receive CAP payments and there will not be a competitive level playing field. Some attention also needs to paid to price volatility in terms of its impact on levels of production and hence on food security. Vulnerabilities to climate change could increase global price volatility.

Conservation and agri-environmental schemes will continue to be significant. There is a broader basis of political support for them. However, they are relatively short term, for example over periods of five years. All farms only have a limited area that can be taken out of production, or subject to special treatment; and still allow the farm to be a viable producer of food. Conservation and environmental protection will only be successful if the industry feels secure financially.

One sheep farmer I talked with noted, ‘if the family farms are not maintained then they will not be there in the future and then who is going to look after the environment?’ This farming family has been active in creating habitat areas with some grant help and noted ‘This was all possible because over the years we have had a fairly reliable income source which has allowed us to improve the farm.'

One issue with such schemes is that of ‘additionality’, whether payments lead farmers to behave differently from what they would have done in the absence of the scheme. Whether this is the case is very difficult to assess conclusively.

Mechanisms of support

Payments that are based on head of stock produce quantity rather than quality which is not the best outcome either for the industry or the environment and they may not be compatible with WTO rules. Whether it would be possible to devise a policy instrument that rewarded quality without placing too great an administrative burden on administrators and farmers is an interesting question.

Farmers in Wales have sought to move up market and add value by producing more speciality products that can command a higher return from the market. Anything that can be done to encourage and support these efforts would represent a good strategy. However, the buying power of the supermarket chains remains a challenge.


The EU has devised a wide range of regulations that apply to agriculture. These are embodied in numerous EU directives such as the Nitrates Directive and the Water Framework Directive. These have been transposed into law by the introduction of primary legislation or by the introduction of statutory instruments under the European Communities Act 1972.

As well as environmental legislation, there are extensive measures relating to animal health and welfare reinforced by the recognition of animals as sentient beings in the Lisbon Treaty. There are 18 EU laws setting standards on the way farm animals are produced and reared, transported and slaughtered. There are 12 laws covering wildlife.

Existing regulations should remain in place after Brexit while they are reviewed in terms of their objectives and whether they are efficient means of achieving those objectives, in particular whether they place disproportionate compliance burdens on farmers.


How far Wales can pursue a differentiated policy after Brexit that is sensitive to Welsh needs and priorities depends in large part on funding arrangements. (The Barnett formula came up in discussion.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Four threats to global food security

This blog piece looks at four threats to global food security and what we can do about them: Food security

The four threats identified are drought, emerging diseases, salty soils and over dependence on fertilisers.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

SAWS scheme to be revived?

Ministers are discussing with farming leaders the possibility of reviving a version of the SAWS scheme after Brexit to meet the need for migrant labour in the fruit and vegetable sector. Some producers have considered relocating abroad. A farmer in Suffolk recently placed on hold an order for £500,000 worth of cherry trees because of uncertainties about Brexit.

Planting and harvesting these crops is labour intensive and hard, monotonous work. About 75,000 workers a year are needed as British workers are reluctant to do the work. It's temporary and they would lose most of their benefits. Replacements such as robots are a long way off.

The seasonal agriculture workers (SAWS) scheme, which allowed people to come to Britain for six months to pick fruit and vegetables, operated for sixty years until 2013. It is felt that a larger and more flexible scheme is needed so that labour could be recruited from anywhere in the world. It is estimated that 90,000 workers will be needed by 2019.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Thinking about the consequences of Brexit

On a hot day a group of leading experts on the CAP and related issues gathered in a basement in London to discuss the challenges from Brexit on Chatham House terms.

Concern was expressed about the capacity of a hollowed out civil service to deal with the issues. How could we administer the more targeted policy that was likely to emerge after Brexit? Government departments were structuring and organising themselves with some staff transfers taking place, e.g., from Defra to the Brexit department.

It was somewhat ironic that the first trade pact being talked about was with Australia with which we had a small volume of trade. They would free access for agricultural products, not least for sugar. What would the EU think about that?

There was no idea how tariff related quotas or the amber box could be shared out.

After Brexit, should the focus be on labour saving technology development? But how near and how feasible/financially viable were some of the big developments like crops being picked by robots?

It was pointed out that existing domestic regulations were backed up in terms of compliance and enforcement by the possibility of reference to the ECJ.

The CAP was designed to slow down structural change, so we could expect more farm amalgamations after Brexit. Asset prices would fall. However, it was agreed that there were many variables that affected land prices, not least the availability of tax relief. There was no simple relationship between farm support and land prices.

The issue of price volatility was noted and it was pointed out that the 2010 food security study was very reliant on the fact that we were in the EU. Vulnerabilities to climate change could increase price volatility. A lot of things that were not really about price volatility were badged as such.

As far as food security was concerned, the biggest problem was the lack of storage in the food supply chain and the resilience of the system.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

A farmer writes

A contribution from an upland sheep farmer, reflecting on prospects after the Brexit decision.

'At the moment we have a reliable source of revenue from our lamb sales but are concerned to what will happen when our exit from the EU takes place as it seems no negotiations with old or new partners can take place until that point. This could leave a gap of several years before anything is agreed. There have been discussions with the US taking place for a couple of years via the EU I believe for the sale of lamb to the States, these of course will come to a stop and we will have to start again. More than one country has indicated that we will be at the end of the queue.

The British government is being rather vague over the continuation of any support after 2020. Conservation support will not pay the bills commendable as it is. It is also very short term usually in 5 year blocks, you are then on your own and must come up with new areas of the farm to enter into a new scheme for another five years.

All farms only have a limited area that can be taken out of production and still allow the farm to be a viable producer of food. Conservation will only be successful if the industry feels secure financially. Some form of support is certainly needed to counteract the volatility in food production as we all need to eat.

Of the type of support even we are not sure. Any payments per head of stock only produces quantity not quality which is not good for the industry or the environment. Payments on the number of hectares held has caused some problems in Wales as to how you value different areas of land. Perhaps something more on the quality of stock produced and sold successfully, but I don't know how that would equate in the more arable areas.

One thing is for certain, if the family farms are not maintained they simply will not be there in a few years then who is going to look after the environment? Those making an income from the land see and understand the healthy balance of the land for all concerned, and that certainly includes the wild life in all forms.

Also the local communities who rely on agriculture, there are many people working self employed, be they fencing contractors, tree surgeons, agricultural mechanics, shearers- to name some who would find themselves having to move away for work. Our villages will become ghost areas or holiday parks. even those with holiday cottages I hear are sometimes finding it difficult to fill the vacancies as there seems to be so many of them.'

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