Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pressure for green farm subsidies is mounting

Pressure for a greening of domestic farm subsidies after Brexit is mounting. Indeed, one might say that it is becoming the new conventional wisdom.

Such pillars of the agricultural establishment as former Defra ministers Caroline Spellman and Richard Benyon, along with agriculture select committee chair and former MEP Neil Parish, are among 36 MPs who have written to Theresa May urging her to shift farm subsidies towards protecting the environment. It may be that they think that this is the best way of maximising continuing payments for farmers.

The influential RSPB is expected to launch its 2016 State of Nature report this week, claiming that intensive farming methods are putting more than 120 species of wildlife at risk.

The NFU is seeking to put food security, which it sees as its strongest subsidy card, back at the heart of the debate. They claim that the food and farming industry is worth £108bn a year, but that includes second stage food processing which is not reliant on domestic ingredients and necessarily has to import ones like cocoa.

Tim Lang from City University admits that farmers are being squeezed by a vicious cycle of increasing costs and lower returns. He says that what we need is less farming and more horticulture.

However, the sector is being hit by a double whammy of the National Living Wage and difficulties in recruiting labour after Brexit. Wages are a particular problem in Scotland where the National Living Wage is not age banded so that you cannot pay less to under 25s. Foreign workers are concerned about Brexit and a large UK supplier of foreign workers to UK agriculture has seen applicants to its Bulgarian office drop by 70 per cent compared with a usual 25 per cent at this time of year.

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