Monday, February 08, 2021

Some early reflections on the impact of Brexit

This article appeared in the latest issue of South-East Farmer:

Many farmers breathed a sigh of relief when a last minute trade deal was agreed between the UK and the EU, avoiding the threat of tariffs and quotas on agricultural exports.   Of course, this would have affected some sectors more than others, notably those farming sheep.  Such enterprises exist within the south-east of England, but they are more characteristic of remote hill farming areas in all the four nations of the United Kingdom.

I must admit to having a personal interest as my brother-in-law and nephew are sheep farmers in a remote part of Wales.   They have merged three farms in order to run as lean and efficient an operation as possible.   However, the whole enterprise is reliant on selling sheep for meat and the price they receive is influenced by the 40 per cent or so of total output that goes to mainland Europe.   The price received for wool scarcely covers the cost of shearing, if that, and rental income from properties and telephone masts is very much secondary.   The suggestion made by one politician that sheep farmers could shift to beef ignores the realities of production.

Farmers are generally enterprising and keen to keep input costs under control.   One farmer I know in Yorkshire produces honey with a distinctive taste from the moors, but still principally relies on his contract with a leading supermarket.   The more general point here is that the basic payment received by farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy is being replaced by a smaller domestic payment that is being phased out more quickly than some had anticipated, particularly for larger scale farms.

Other new forms of payment will be available, principally the Environmental Land Management Scheme, although that is still being developed and tested.  Along with other payments, it will fall well short of compensating farmers for the loss of the basic payment which made the difference between profit and loss for many farm enterprises.    It will also involve form filling to obtain, along with monitoring of outcomes, and is likely to be more suitable for farmers in remoter areas.   This is not necessarily a bad thing from an overall policy point of view, but it may prove challenging for, for example, larger scale arable farmers in south-east England.

In areas like the south-east there are, of course, opportunities for diversification that may not exist in remoter areas, particularly those that are less suited to tourism.   In this area as well, farmers have been very innovative in the range of ideas they have put into practice.   There can, however, come a point where one is no longer running a farm business, but a farm that enhances other projects such as wedding venues, restaurants, shops and petting zoos.  [I have just read about a farmer who is made £50,000 by loaning out a goat for video calls].

It is, of course, a personal business decision how far to go down this route.   A note of caution is necessary for late adopters.  Much of the low hanging fruit has already been taken.   The capital costs can be considerable and the skills required can be very different from decisions about what to plant, when to spray and when to harvest.   That said, many farmers manage to both farm and run complementary businesses.

Agriculture was the dog that didn’t bark in the night time in the very long legal text arrived at between the UK and the EU.   Indeed, listening to the discussions during the negotiations, one was left with the impression that fisheries were the really vital sector despite the fact that it accounts for a smaller share of the economy than agriculture.   Fish did enjoy considerable symbolic value in terms of ‘taking back control’.

There was an annex on trade in wine.   This is not really my area of expertise, apart from enjoying it and investing in one well-known business in the South-East.  As with most such agreements, the devil is in detail, but I would have thought that at first glance it was broadly acceptable to those growing grapes and producing wine in England.  [A subsequent article in the Financial Times refers to certification costs which could add £1.50 to a £12 bottle of imported wine.  This, of course, could make domestically produced wine more price competitive, although factors other than price can play a big part in purchase decisions].

In simple terms what the annex says is that EU and the UK should import and consume each other’s wine, although the flow is clearly from the EU direction.   The documentation required is limited to a certificate which can be produced electronically.   The self-certification is limited to eleven relatively straightforward questions.  The agreement will be reviewed after three years, a shorter period than for fisheries.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The CAP in review

The CAP will continue after Brexit, albeit with somewhat less money, but will needed changes be made, particularly in terms of 'greening'?   I give an overview here:

This has attracted some attention on Twitter and I am grateful for the feedback received.   One comment was that 'Seems to suggest that nitrates have been addressed by the ND....if only that were true. There is large scale non compliance with the ND standards never mind the more ambitious water framework ones.' This is a fair criticism, I simply didn't have the word budget to deal with the issue in more depth.

I should have remembered that 'many years ago the OECD “Producer Subsidy Equivalent” was renamed the “Producer Support Estimate” because not all policy transfers are subsidies but some are payments for public goods.'

'Another quibble, but not so minor: at over 30% of its budget, EU expenditure on agriculture is called "substantial", because agriculture is only 1.6% of EU GDP. Unfair comparison: the whole EU budget itself is less than 2% of EU public expenditure.' I can see where this comment is coming from and it is not without validity, but agriculture still secures a disproportionate share of the EU budget.

Friday, May 29, 2020

EU lays down the gauntlet on biodiversity

The EU has set out a new biodiversity strategy.   When I have studied it in detail I will provide some analysis, but for now the summary can be found here:

It is clear that a particular vision of farming is inherent in the document which states: 'certain agricultural practices are a key driver of biodiversity decline. This is why it is important to work with farmers to support and incentivise the transition to fully sustainable practices. Improving the condition and diversity of agroecosystems will increase the sector’s resilience to climate change, environmental risks and socioeconomic shocks, while creating new jobs, for example in organic farming, rural tourism or recreation.'

In other words, intensive forms of farming may face challenges.

The Commission's new Green Deal also has implications for agriculture and it has been leaked ahead of publication:

The recovery plan from Covid-19 'aims to digitalise and modernise the farming sector to increase the EU's resilience and to lower EU's dependency on third countries.'

Something similar may find favour in the UK after Brexit.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

How can the CAP reduce GHG emissions?

Climate change has been an absent element of the CAP. A proposal for a third pillar was put forward in the last round of reforms, but was quickly squashed - I suspect by agri-business interests. However, the pressures to do something are now substantial, but what policy instruments should be used?

In that respect an article in the latest Journal of Agricultural Economics is helpful: M Himics et al, 'Setting Climate Action as the Priority for the Common Agricultural Policy: a Simulation Experiment.'

They examine the possibilities of re-directing the direct income support provided to farmers to a direct greenhouse gas reduction subsidy. They find that such a reallocation of financial resources could reduce agricultural non-carbon dioxide emissions (nitrous oxide and methane) by 21 per cent by 2030, compared to a business-as-usual baseline. Two-thirds of the emission savings are due to changes in production levels and composition.

A table lists various technological mitigation options, e.g., feed additives for livestock and breeding programmes to increase ruminant feed efficiency. Crops could use measures such as precision farming and better timing of fertilisation.

The special needs of remote island farming communities like the Orkney Islands would be respected

The greening top up of Pillar 1 would be retained, as would coupled supports for sectors and regions in competitive disadvantage. There would also be support for farmers in areas with natural constraints. My example would be the Orkney Islands which receive coupled support via the Scottish Government.

However, the removal of the basic payment could be associated with accelerated structural change and variable income effects. This does raise questions of political feasibility.

In future member states will have more flexibility to choose from a menu of greening policy options. However, it is not clear how the new CAP design would enable agriculture to meet the EU's emission reduction targets.

One area of difficulty in terms of the article's proposal is the impact on the livestock sector, already under economic pressure. 'The ruminant meat sector is most affected (-10% decrease in herd size and -9% in production), but pig production is also negatively affected.' Prices for beef and sheep and goat meat would go up, but would be offset by increasing imports and decreasing exports.

There would also be a six per cent decrease in the total utilised agricultural area, particularly of fodder activities and a 34 per cent increase in set aside activities and fallow land.

Emission savings in the EU are partially offset globally due to increasing production in less emission efficient trading partners. (Not given as an example, but Brazil comes to mind).

The scheme might also penalise farmers who have already invested in emission-efficient technologies and might require above average financial incentives to achieve further GHG reductions.

The authors argue that 'taking the current status quo of the regional pattern of basic CAP payments as a benchmark for direct agricultural GHG emissions-reduction policy would be suboptimal'. In terms of political acceptability, that might be problematic.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Nearly half of Kiwi greenhouse gases come from farming

Caroline Saunders, the president of the Agricultural Economics Society writes in its latest newsletter: 'Climate change is impacting on agriculture, both through consequences such as extreme weather events and through major changes in policy.'

'New Zealand [where she is a professor] is in an unusual position with 48 per cent of its greenhouse gases coming from agriculture. The New Zealand government has passed a Zero Carbon Bill with zero emissions by 2050. The agricultural sector has until 2022 to show how it will achieve this; otherwise, it will go into the Emissions Trading Scheme in 2025. In the UK, agricultural emissions are about 10 per cent of the total, but the UK also has the ambition of net zero emissions by 2050.

Both countries must work out how to measure the emissions, the point of obligation, the treatment of methane and the methods available to farmers to reduce emissions, and how to support farmers through the transition. There is also the issue of trade and the potential substitution of imports produced with higher emissions (New Zealand has relatively low carbon emission per unit of output).

New Zealand and the UK have strong links and it will be interesting to see how negotiations between the countries address these issues. Given WTO rules, this may be through a new trade agreement and/or through promoting consumer preferences for products with low carbon footprints. New Zealand was the first country to adopt a formal well-being budget in 2019.

Whilst it is early days to see how this will transform policy, it is a step in the right direction. One consequence is a shift in policy thinking to put more weight on the well being of those in the agricultural sector, given the changes mentioned above. A key challenge for the [agricultural economics] profession is to research the distinctive role of government to ensure transitions that consider farmer wellbeing.'

One interesting consideration is how Brexit will affect any future trade agreement which is likely to be sought by the UK. One issue could well be trade offs between financial services (for the UK) and agriculture (for New Zealand).

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A new type of CAP?

The French Government has supported the idea of a CAP based on creating farmer employment rather than being based on the area cultivated: Supporting farmers jobs

The second pillar would become a set of incentives and penalties with an emphasis on tackling climate change.

Monday, September 16, 2019

New farm commissioner from Poland

With Phil Hogan promoted to be trade commissioner, the new agriculture commissioner is from Poland. Janusz Wojciechowski is a 64-year old Polish politician and has 15 years of experience in European politics, having been elected to the European Parliament in 2004, a seat he held until 2016 when he went to the Court of Auditors.

He has specific experience in agri-politics at European level, having served as the vice-chairperson of the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development for most of that time.

Wojciechowski was nominated as a commissioner by the Polish government after the countries original nominee for this commission, Krzysztof Szczerski, decided to withdraw his candidacy. This was because, as Szczerski explained in the Polish media after it was first mooted that he would be given the agriculture and rural development job, he felt that someone with experience in agriculture would be better suited to the role.

Wojciechowski started his European political career as part of the European People’s Party (EPP), of which his national party, the Polish People’s Party. However, he was dismissed from the Polish People’s Party after leaving the EPP for the Union for Europe and the Nations, a political grouping that is considered more conservative and eurosceptic.

He will face the challenge of dealing with a reduced farm budget after Brexit.