Monday, June 20, 2016

What would Brexit mean for British farms?

My last contribution to the referendum debate: Brexit and British farms

It has already been condemned by one commentator as a piece of agit prop, but we think that our report represented an honest appraisal of the evidence and that it is difficult to see clear gains for British agriculture from Brexit.

If there is a Brexit decision, hopefully we will have a thorough debate about the objectives of a domestic agricultural policy and the policy instruments that can best achieve them, but the pressure of events will probably dictate otherwise.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Consequences of Brexit for UK agriculture

This article summarises a contribution I made to a recent edition of EuroChoices on the consequences of Brexit for UK agriculture, along with summaries of contributions by Alan Matthews and Alan Swinbank: Brexit uncertainties

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The need for a Common Sustainable Food Policy

An authoritative and informative survey of the CAP by Alison Bailey, Tim Lang and Victoria Shoen concludes with a call for change and the formulation of a Common Sustainable Food Policy: Common Food Policy

Whatever else the referendum debate has done, it has stimulated some excellent work on the future direction of policy.

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Deficiency payments unlikely to return

Writing in The Spectator Matthew Parris cites as one of his six arguments for Remain that 'The EU good has been good for farmers and good for the countryside.' It's quite unusual to see agriculture mentioned in the general debate.

He then goes on to say 'Leaving the EU, the UK would probably have to revert to pre-membership system of "deficiency payments" to support farming. It was a costly, ill-controlled nightmare which the Treasury hated.' That's one good reason why it won't come back.

Deficiency payments do at least take some account of market prices. The problem is that the guaranteed price, with farmers paid the gap between that and the market price, was often set too high as a result of lobbying.

Path dependency theory suggests that what we are most likely to get is a scaled down version of the basic payment (formerly single farm payment). In the event of a Brexit, what we really need is a debate about what the objectives of a domestic agricultural policy should be and which policy instruments could best achieve them. However, we are unlikely to get it. Expediency and rushed decision-making is likely to prevail.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Is CAP beneficial for UK?

Alan Greer of the University of the West of England has written a particularly good contribution to the referendum debate in relation to agriculture for the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Agriculture, Food and Rural Policy. He covers a lot of ground in a relatively short space.

He notes that there is at least consensus about what the key issues are. Much of the debate reflects disagreement about whether or not the CAP is beneficial to the UK.

Looking at the views of the farmers, he says that the evidence is contradictory. However, the Farmers Weekly poll he refers to was based on self-selection rather than a sample. Supporters of Brexit are more likely to respond. I would place more reliance on the NFU poll.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Single market is key for agriculture

The importance of the single market to agriculture was emphasised by Martin Haworth, deputy director-general of the NFU, in a presentation earlier today at a conference in London organised by the UK in a Changing Europe programme. Subsidies to farmers were not the most important issue. 65 to 70 per cent of agricultural exports from the UK went to Europe and there was no other alternative. He also noted that the EU had over fifty trade agreements with third countries.

The uncertainty inherent in the Article 50 process was of itself damaging and the CBI had estimated that it could lead to a fall in GDP of 0.75 per cent to 1.5 per cent.

UK agriculture required 20,000 - 25,000 seasonal workers and there were another 35,000 full-time EU workers in agriculture. Analysis by Oxford University of the effects of a point system showed that 96 per cent of the workers would not get through.

Governments of other EU member states showed more sympathy with agriculture. Britain was a more urban society than most of the rest of Europe. He noted, 'I get much more access, interest and sympathy in Brussels.'

Farming formed part of a food chain and virtually the whole chain was in favour of staying in the EU. Food manufacturers would have to consider relocating in the event of Brexit. The catering industry was highly dependent on migrant labour.

He had not heard a credible argument on agriculture that suggested we would be better off leaving.

Responding to questions he said that the Ciolos reform had not offered a strategic vision of agriculture, but was a tactical attempt to green the CAP to attract more support. The division between Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 had been blurred.

Britain in the EU had been sullen and budget obsessed and had never punched with the weight we should have done.

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, said that going around the country food issues had been raised relatively rarely. However, she occasionally heard the demand 'We must take control of our fish' which created the vision of a fish swimming round with a passport tucked under its fin. We now had a reasonably sustainable fisheries policy that took account of the biological capacity of the ocean. The fact that we had been able to reform the CFP raised hopes for the reform of the CAP.

What is very clear is that fishers want to get out of the EU, in contrast to the more divided views of farmers: Fishermen and the EU

As for the referendum debate, it had degenerated into a Tory leadership contest masquerading as a EU referendum debate.

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Big data could be the next big thing

'Big data' could foster the next wave of agricultural innovation, but there are some impediments that arise from the nature of the industry. Developing low cost measurement capabilities is key: Innovation

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Friday, May 27, 2016

What is the Common Agricultural Policy?

CAP expert Robert Ackrill (there aren't many of us) explains in a very useful review: What is the CAP?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

No bonfire of controls

Here are some extracts from a presentation I made at a conference at the British Academy on 'The EU and the UK: the Wrong Kind of Regulation?

Farmers find the most negative aspect of the European Union to be what they perceive as the excessive burden of regulation. There is particular complaint about the ‘gold plating’ of EU regulations in the UK, adding to what is required by the EU, although when farmers and their representatives are asked to come up with examples they can usually produce very few and some of those are trivial.

There is no doubt that regulations impose transaction costs on farmers, taking them away from the activity of farming. My brother-in-law is a sheep farmer and I have seen the paperwork associated with the movement of his animals. However, regulations are there for a reason and those farmers who anticipate a bonfire of controls if there was a Brexit would probably be disappointed. There are four main drivers of the regulation of agriculture and food:

  • The protection of human health
  • The protection of animal health and welfare
  • The protection of the environment
  • The protection of the consumer

It is worth noting that the UK has been in the forefront of pushing the EU’s smart regulation agenda which emphasises:

The need to take impact assessments for significant proposals
  • The desirability of seeking alternatives to legislation
  • The need to evaluate current legislation, so-called fitness checks
  • The importance of consulting on proposed regulations
  • Another defining characteristic of UK policy has been that risk management should be based on robust science and evidence. This has led it at times to question risk management decision as being unduly risk averse leading to disproportionate legislation, for example in relation to plant protection about which I will say more later.

    Farmers receive substantial subsidies from the EU. The payment of these subsidies by the Rural Payments Agency is often badly delayed with consequences for farmers’ cash flow. This is partly the responsibility of the agency, but it also reflects the complexity of the regulations and the difficulty of applying them. Simplification of CAP rules has been objective of the EU for some time, but progress has been slow. In part, this reflects the fact that the regulations are the result of an often messy compromise between different interests.

    The EU has effectively prevented the commercial use of genetically modified crops. However, whether this represents the right or wrong kind of regulation depends on where you stand on this controversial issue. Regulatory issues are not just questions of burden reduction but also of political judgment.

    As far as food regulation is concerned, the emphasis has been on free movement and food safety. It has been argued that the regulations are safe and comfortable and not that useful. In particular, there has been a relative neglect of nutritional issues which are important in relation to obesity. However, that in turn reflects defects in the scope of the Common Agricultural Policy. Good policy instruments in the form of regulations rely on well thought out and comprehensive policy objectives.

    David Baldock of the IEEP, also on the panel, and I agreed that the main areas in which regulations might be relaxed after Brexit were GM crops, the Nitrates Directive and some aspects of the Water Framework Directive.

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