Monday, February 27, 2017

Fall in farm land prices

After many years of above inflation increases, the price of agricultural land fell by 7 per cent last year with the average price per acre dropping to £10,223. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors blamed a sense of uncertainty linked to the prospective loss of EU subsidies.

A survey by Knight Frank found that farmland prices had fallen last year at the fastest rate since 1999. Its survey of bare agricultural land (not including homes or farm buildings) found that prices fell by 9 per cent to £7,470 an acre. Nevertheless, a pound invested in agricultural land in 2009 would still be worth twice as much as a pound invested in a house or the FTSE 100 share index.

It is thought that the price of farmland could continue to fall this year because of higher input prices resulting from the fall in the value of the pound. Prices are, however, being propped up by lifestyle farmers who are estimated to account for a quarter of purchases.

A fall in land prices might be seen as a benefit of Brexit, making it easier for new entrants to come into the industry, reducing the average age of farmers and boosting innovation. However, the real consideration here is whether rents for tenants fall significantly as this is the usual entry route other than in cases of succession.

Even then, new entrants face the cost of machinery and, other than or arable farms, livestock. What may be needed is new means of building up a herd such as share farming which is being experimented with, following the Nee Zealand example.

Friday, February 24, 2017

NFU goes for three pronged approach

The National Farmers Union has gone for a 'three pronged' approach to British agricultural policy after Brexit. If it seems a little short on detail, this is no surprise as different sectors of the industry want different things and even farmers within the same sector.

The first area would be designed to enhance productivity and competitiveness. This could include capital grants to farmers, knowledge transfer, training and advice an tax breaks to encourage investment.

The second area would be directed at environmental measures. As well as traditional agri-environmental schemes this could encompass payments for ecosystem services such as water companies paying farmers to look after watercourses.

The third area would be concerned with volatility. This would be the top priority if the settlement was an unfavourable one for the sector, e.g., on trade. This could include crop insurance (I remain to be convinced), future contracts (surely only for bigger farmers), and income guarantees, as well as direct payments to farmers. Income guarantees might look like deficiency payments as happened pre-1973, but they may not be WTO compatible.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Migrant labour and agriculture

The UK in a Changing Europe programme has published a blog post from me on migrant labour and agriculture in which I call for a new version of the SAWS programme after Brexit: Migrant labour

Friday, February 10, 2017

No priority at all?

According to a leaked report in The Times today, the Government has divided sectors of the economy into high, medium and low priority for the Brexit negotiations.

As one might expect, pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles, aerospace and air transport get high priority, along with (rather more surprising) textiles and clothing. Fisheries gets into the medium priority list. But in this leaked list, agriculture and food processing don't get mentioned at all.

That is a concern when agriculture could be the sector economically damaged by Brexit through a combination of the loss of subsidies and the removal of tariff protection.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

What form of pesticide regulation after Brexit?

This is one of the many complexities to be faced after Brexit and fortunately the ADHB has produced an excellent guide to the subject authored by Sarah Barker and John Knight: Horizon study

After the referendum, I heard that some arable farmers had voted for BrexĂ­t because of restrictive pesticide regulations. However, this study concludes: 'The regulatory burden might not be reduced as much as farmers hope and in any event would probably take a number of years to achieve. It is also likely that environmental, consumer and public health lobbies will continue to be influential and to exert pressure for more stringent regulation'.

The report sets out four options. Aligning with the EU would be relatively straightforward, provided it was accepted by the EU. The precautionary principle would continue, but the UK would have no influence over the approval process which might become more restrictive with the remaining EU members.

Aligning with the US has found favour in some quarters because of the use of a risk-based approach there. More actives and products would become available to the UK industry and more biologicals would be available [the US has been particularly innovative in this area]. However, there might be a pressure group reaction to a more permissive regime and climatic differences may mean that US actives are less suitable for use in the UK, particularly for niche crops.

Adopting OECD standards, which use a risk-based approach, might work in the future but there are major challenges in obtaining efficient collaboration between multiple governments.

The UK could have its own policy which would give it full control of the approvals process. It could adopt a low-risk approach and it might be possible to speed up the approval of biopesticides. However, the registration and use of pesticides would have to be acceptable to trading partners. The UK may be seen as too small a market for companies to go to the expense of registering products for approval, leading to fewer actives being available.

In other words, there is no ideal solution, although a UK policy might be seen as politically compatible with hard Brexit.