Everyone needs a bright future for agriculture

Emma Duncan’s recent article in The Times about cutting greedy farmers down to size is an interesting viewpoint on the current Brexit debate. The GWCT Allerton Project’s Head of Farming Phil Jarvis offers an alternative view to some of the statements (in red) she made.

“I’m drawing a little comfort from the prospect of our liberation from the one bit of Europe I have always hated — the Common Agricultural Policy.”

The CAP is the system of agricultural subsidies implemented over 40 years ago to increase food productivity, security, market stability and reasonable prices to the consumer. It is far from perfect, but it has provided bountiful supplies of food for European consumers and enabled economic viability for a number of often neglected rural communities. Whether food is more important than other manufactured goods is debateable when supermarket shelves are full and supply exceeds demand.

It is both admirable and desirable to increase freer trade with the developing world, but I’m not sure I want to see the demise of the UK’s agricultural production and a return to a weedy wilderness as an alternative. Food safety and security with comparable production standards are required to keep a level playing field, of course unless we don’t want a UK farming industry. Be very careful exporting our productive landscape to one you have very little control over! Importing food from developing countries might also lead to food shortages in other parts of the world

Not all farming payments are production based; many help protect and enhance our farmland wildlife habitats. The three Greening elements and Cross Compliance all help protect our environment, while Environmental Stewardship helps enhance and rejuvenate wildlife habitats around crop production. Through the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, farmers voluntarily create thousands of acres of habitat to encourage biodiversity. As I drilled wild bird cover for winter feeding, I noticed a plethora of wild flowers, providing a bountiful food source to our resident invertebrates and pollinators, as well as a diverse array of crops in the landscape.

Sowing wild bird cover for feeding over the winter periodSowing wild bird cover for feeding over the winter period

A plethora of wild flowersA plethora of wild flowers, providing a bountiful food source to our resident invertebrates and pollinator

The crops I grow are part of my commitment to feed a growing population and make no excuse for such a stance. This is against a backdrop of challenging weather, increasing concerns on climate change and market volatility.

CropsThe crops I grow are part of my commitment to feed a growing population

“If we cut subsidies, farming will shrink and land prices fall. That will free up land for other uses. One is housing: we desperately need houses for our young people, and lower land prices will make building them more affordable. Another is a healthier environment.” “The subsidy regime encourages a sterile monoculture: it condemns the Yorkshire Wolds to barley and wheat as far as the eye can see and denudes the Welsh hills by covering them with a surplus of sheep.”

A healthier environment is not necessarily achieved by replacing a ‘sterile monoculture’ with building more houses for ‘our young people’

What is this sterile monoculture of wheat, barley and sheep expressed in the article? The Yorkshire Wolds and Welsh hills are some of the most popular rural tourist locations featuring a combination of stunning landscape; much of which is farmed.

“a poll in Farmers Weekly just before the vote suggested that 58 per cent (of farmers) were Leavers and 31 per cent Remainers ….. These genetically modified turkeys voted for Christmas.”>/span>

I resent being called a ‘genetically modified turkey’. The implication that genetic modification is an agricultural practice in the UK, is both incorrect and misleading.

The National Farmers Union works hard to represent its members and wants a strong vibrant United Kingdom agricultural policy in the years ahead. This will only be achieved with strong functional and fair markets enabling farmers to run profitable businesses. However, this can be achieved by building upon farming’s environmental role, allowing all farmers to care for the countryside, wildlife and mitigate climate change.

This is about a sustainable future for food production and responsible environmental management.

British agricultural policy is about a balance between food production and responsible environmental management. As long as legislation and regulation are proportionate and not bureaucratic and counterproductive we can continue to enjoy productive vibrant sunlit uplands.
Working for a bright future for British agriculture will mean a bright future for the British landscape

I invite Emma Duncan to visit the GWCT Allerton Project, where the more positive aspects of the CAP; soil health, food production and environmental enhancement are key ingredients of our sustainable future.

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at 20:20 on 02/08/2016 by Simon Grantham

Speaking as a Farmer, I am so proud of what we achieve being in the high level scheme and part of the English partridge counting scheme. We are so committed to our countryside- we live in it!! No we cannot cut hedges till September to benefit our birds, we plant many acres of wild bird seed, We are saving birds especially the small ones, these plantings are full of bees and butterflies I suspect millions- providing much neede food for chicks amazing. We don't always make money but I love being here and seeing it work, ask me for photographs.

Farming post 'Brexit'

at 12:11 on 02/08/2016 by Alix Boyd

I'm impressed by the moderateness of most of the responses. But how unfortunate that someone so ill informed obtained such widespread publicity in the first place. Everyone needs to be aware that WE EAT and we HAVE cheap food, Without CAP payments a very large proportion of beef and sheep farmers would cease production. Beef & lamb would be unaffordable by most standard rate tax payers. Bread, butter, milk, breakfast cereals, potatoes, basic vegetables & so on would all become much more expensive because farmers will be unable produce them at the present subsidised rate. Disturbing the status quo, reducing or abolishing subsidies, will most likely mean we NO LONGER have cheap food. A large number of farmers will become unemployed and seek social welfare payments. & parts of the countryside will, yes, go wild. Who has actually seen this? hedges untrimmed, ditches uncleaned, nettles, brambles, bracken, gorse, blackthorn scrub. Most of us will live long enough to 'see' the impenetrable jungle that results. Not all of it is required for affordable housing

CAP Facts

at 10:57 on 02/08/2016 by AECC

Perhaps Mr Glasgow should accompany Emma Duncan on a fact finding visit to the countryside. He may then learn that CAP prohibits vegetation burning and hedge cutting in various months, including May, June & July. Verge cutting is carried out by Councils for road safety, not by farmers. Most of his other utterances on CAP are about 20 years out of date. CAP may not be perfect, but it has served to maintain the farming infrastructure during long periods of low commodity prices, so maintaining the farmed countryside and the farming industry. Brexit may provide a real opportunity for the UK to create its own simple bespoke support system, which could maintain the industry while delivering real benefits for the wider environment, unlike the current EU wide "greening". On the other hand, there will be a political temptation to abandon the "rich" farmers to the "free" world market, so leading to much land abandonment, loss of skills and hence the long term loss of any remaining food security. How many farmers will make money this year without any support payments? Not a lot. If Ms Duncan thinks that lower land prices will be a positive outcome of this process, she may well be disappointed. Typically, land prices show a remarkable disconnect to the earning capacity of the land. Quite why she thinks agricultural subsidies have any bearing on development land value, I have no idea.

Post Brexit

at 10:09 on 02/08/2016 by James Keith

In reply to Dick Glasgow: If you think farmers are "cutting hedgerows and shaving verges ...at a time of year when there is no need", try driving or cycling these lanes in July and August - seriously dangerous, for people and young birds drying out after wet nights etc. The farming red tape means verges are only cut before September for safety reasons. The message customers send to farmers by their shopping basket is they want food at the lowest price possible - the rise of discounters is evidence. You want biodiversity, healthy food and cost savings - utopia? The shopper - you - can send the message to the industry - buy organic / conservation grade/ free range / etc etc. The evidence is most shoppers do not want this. Are you therefore surprised that the market dictates and the results are evident. Look to your own actions as consumers. UK food has never been less %age of the take home wage.

Farming Post Brexit

at 7:38 on 01/08/2016 by Dick Glasgow

I am not surprised the general public have such a low opinion of Farmers today, when they regularly see farmers out cutting hedgerows & shaving verges, burning Gorse & Heather, during the months of May, June, July & so destroying wildflowers & wildlife at a time of year when there is absolutely no need to be doing such work! This, on top of rapidly dwindling numbers of Wildflowers & Songbirds in our countryside, due mainly to modern farming practices, including the drenching of the countryside with far too many harmful chemicals & the drastic reduction in suitable habitat. So, when we see farmers being paid huge sums to tidy up waste ground, drain wet areas, reduce the size of hedges, reduce field margins to a minimum etc. etc.... all measures which reduce even further the chances of survival for so many of our precious native species, it's little wonder that many of us are delighted to see farmers lose these handouts. If their loss means a brighter future for our native species, then many of us welcome this change, if there is even a small chance that it'll mean a more balanced environment for farming & wildlife!

Farming Post 'Brexit'

at 13:57 on 26/07/2016 by Amanda Harman

I invite Emma Duncan to know her facts and visit the countryside and a farm before she stands in judgement, 'a la Blair', in respect of farmers and farming. It would be helpful to know how she thinks covering our nature in numerous boxes will benefit our tourism industry and well-being. I agree we need more homes but let us look to the inner city (where the homes are actually needed) and brown-field sites before reducing our green spaces to tiny patches of land between conurbations. She clearly does not realise or understand that farming is a vocation which brings with it the responsibility to be a steward of the land, much like owners of heritage properties, who have a responsibility to maintain the property for future generations. We are already doing our best, as mankind, to break our planet, let's not then prevent one of the groups who are trying to keep in healthy. Whilst farmers would like to be rich, most of them are not but scrape by doing the job they love and keeping our land as green and pleasant as Blake described. I despair sometimes

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