4 January 2018 (Transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered)
With my commentary in italics..
Gove is saying things, many of us have been hoping for for years. He even calls the two contentious pesticides right – no to Neonics and yes to glyphosate. t.
However, I noticed when he made this speech at the NFU Conference, next to him was a US a trade secretary Ted McKinney. Presumably that was no accident, but he didn’t mention much about a UK-US deal, although others tackled it two later. The result of a free trade deal with the US would be a major challenge to keeping a decent diet as we would be swamped with cheap excess US food. Never mind what you say about standards we would have a lot more maize based products to ruin our health and local economies. We won’t have this green and pleasant land so well described by yourself, we will have containers full of corn crap pouring into our food manufacturing industry.
ALSO we don not need Brexit to achieve much of what he talks about. We can achieve much of what you claim without coming out of the Customs Union and all the hassle of negotiating 2,000 PLUS 15,000 tariffs on farm and food products. This is bound to upset the proverbial apple cart.
At the same time as promising a green and pleasant land, Gove & Fox are encouraging free trade deals with the likes of the USA. This is all in tune with those in the City who want to reduce food costs- while at the same time maintaining some sort of postcard view of the countryside from the City. Gove’s is has a more sophisticated green view, that echoes with many green activists, but not one that recognises the poverty in rural areas (NFU charity page), nor the conditions many have to work in.
Proof of the Pudding
We have heard many promises from politicians over the years, that have not come to fruition (gedit?). Here is one. Woodland Trust announce planting 50 million trees in North in a corridor along the M62.. "We can lock up over 7 million tonnes of carbon as well as potentially reduce flood risk for 190,000 homes." The government has pledged £5.7m,. However the Woodland Trust chip in £10m and the rest of the £500m over the next 25 years still needs to be raised
Anywhere else in business, we would be asked to cost out these plans. £3b will not go far. I suggest a group of academics – let’s say some in the N8 group of universities already tasked with AgriTech research cost out your plans. The soil doesn’t just get properly managed, somebody has to do it, and somebody has to develop biodiversity. Labour costs, it doesn’t just happen. How is it going to be measured and monitored? We should be told how much it will cost – as the proof is in the pudding.
The age of acceleration
For anyone wondering what the focus of this year’s Oxford Farming Conference might be, it was The Archers provided an answer just before Christmas.
Brian Aldridge asked his step-son, Adam, whether he might be attending the conference. Adam replied wearily. ‘I think I’ll give it a miss this year. It’s probably going to be all about Brexit. I get enough of that at home.’
I know how he feels. I suspect everyone in this room knows how he feels.
Always good to mention the Archers!
And, of course, I’ll say something in a moment about the specific opportunities and challenges for agriculture on leaving the European Union.
But if we’re going to make the most of those opportunities and overcome those challenges it’s critical that we recognise that there is much, much, more that is changing in our world than our relationship with the EU.
And we need to recognise it is not all going to be a land of milk and honey – sweet, but some bitter truths lie ahead – hence my book Bittersweet Brexit.
As we saw in the presentation at the beginning of this session, the world’s population is growing at an unprecedented rate, with a worldwide migration from rural areas to cities and a growth in the global middle class which is driving demand for more, and better quality, food.
We can easily produce much more food to feed any increase in population. The reason many are starving is not because we can’t produce enough food, but because many cannot afford to buy it – many of whom work in the food chain. In fact, an increasing world population could help satisfy the overproduction of food in both the US and EU – providing they can buy it. Movement to cities is partly because of such poor pay to food producers, and it is not just middle class growth, but the biggest migration – 120-200 million from rural to cities in China is predominantly working class who need to be fed - cheaply
Technological change is at an inflection point. Developments in big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning mean that processes which would have required the intellect and effort of thousands of humans over many hours in the past can be accomplished automatically by digital means in seconds.
But only where and by those who can afford it – it is unlikely to be in public domain.
These technological breakthroughs raise political and moral questions as we consider how we deal with the transformation of a huge range of existing jobs. And alongside these changes in the world of information technology there are bio-tech changes coming which also challenge us to think about the future, and how best to shape it. Gene editing technology could help us to remove vulnerabilities to illness, develop higher yielding crops or more valuable livestock, indeed potentially even allow mankind to conquer the diseases to which we are vulnerable.
I don’t really believe GM can deliver all that lot – there is never a silver bulletnor technical fix, but nor is it the great evil as portrayed by some. We need a more democratic process to decide what is in our best interests.
Food in abundance, improved health, greater longevity: these are all goals to which our species has aspired since the first farmers waited for the first harvest. But in attempting to shape evolution more profoundly than any plant or animal breeder ever has done before are we biting off much more than we can chew (title of my first book!)? And these are not the only changes coming. Our global environment is affected as never before by the population growth I’ve referred to, and the consequent growth in demand for nutritious food, safe drinking water, comfortable housing, reliable energy and new consumer goods.
Er...shouldnt the UK itself have nutritious food – seeing we are the most obese in Europe?
The growth in trade which will meet those needs will depend on more packaging, more journeys by air, land and sea, more logistics hubs and more work by designers, marketers and, yes, regulators.
Sounds like an argument to grow more locally!
The pressures placed on our global environment by this growth I’ve sketched briefly out will be formidable – whether it’s greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere contributing to global warming, desertification and soil erosion reducing the space for cultivation, deforestation leading to the disappearance of valuable carbon sinks and precious habitats, air pollution from traditional industry and intensive agriculture adding to health costs, waste poisoning our oceans or iconic landscapes under threat from the need for further development.
So why don’t you produce more of the food we eat – here in the UK? We import nearly half, and in so doing create 2/3 of GHGs – Abroad. And our land use use twice us much land abroad than we do here – think if Spain, Kenya, Canada. To do the environment the biggest favour, we do not need more trade travel, but more interesting growth here.
Didnt the UK government (both Labour and Tory and NFU) block the EU’s Soils Directive? Mainly because it required declaration of contminated land?
Without action we face the progressive loss of the natural capital on which all growth - natural, human and economic - ultimately depends.
Quite, so why not develop it here – rather than the other side of the world? As with all capital, it is dependent on labour. Trouble is cheap labour is abroad. For good soil, instead of degrading arable soils, mixed farming, rotate, will require labour – and that doesn’t come cheap here – unless we rely on EU migrant workers – that many object to.
So the imperative to husband, indeed wherever possible, enhance our natural capital - safeguarding our oceans, cleaning our rivers, keeping our soils fertile, protecting biodiversity - has to be at the heart of any plan for our country and our world.
Agree. But in a market based capitalist world where we reward cheap and cheerful food, is there not a contradiction? ‘enhancing’ ‘safeguarding’ ‘cleaning’ ‘keeping’ ‘protecting’ all cost money. Just look at those words being used in context of health and care. We should be told.
Because we cannot expect to live prosperous and civilised lives in the future unless we recognise that we have to care for that which gives us all life - our planet.
Care – quite! So how much is being invested? Just a few words up till now, and the past EU subsidies re-distributed a bit.
And that knowledge is itself a catalyst for further change. The need to protect our planet better is already accelerating innovation- with entrepreneurs exploring how to develop autonomous electric vehicles, how to change the energy mix we all rely on, how to reduce our reliance on plastics, how to derive more protein from plants rather than animals, how to grow produce, whether hydroponically or by other means, which leaves a lighter imprint on the earth, how to use distributed ledger technology to protect habitats and so much more.
To that I would add ways to measure the damage maize production is doing to soils, how are we going to use less nitrogen fertilisers, can migrant works be replaced with technology, developing bettert Integrated Pest Management Systems. There is a big role for innovation, but the criticism of every report into it says there is a big gap between researchers and practioners.
So the reality of our times is not just change as the only constant but accelerating change as the new normal. Which is why the title of this conference - Embracing Change - is so appropriate.
Because the changes which are shaping all our futures are so historically significant, technologically revolutionary and economically transformative that we have no choice but to embrace them and try to shape them in a progressive and judicious way.
A state without the means of change is without the means of conservation
Now I know there is, of course, a natural human desire to stick with what we know, trust to experience and hope things can go on much as before. To prefer the tried to the untried. You hear it when some in industry, and indeed some in the farming industry, say that what we need most at the moment is certainty.
I understand that sentiment all too well. As I think does almost everyone in politics.
I agree in that we all want to progress, but few of us want to change.
But the truth is that if we try to avoid change, hold the future at bay and throw up barriers to progress then we don’t stop change coming, we simply leave ourselves less equipped to deal with change as it arrives.
The history of nationalised industries, state subsidies for particular sectors, guilds to restrict access to trades, high tariff walls and all the other tools of so-called economic “protection” is a melancholy one. The road is paved with good intentions - preserving strategic assets, insulating communities from change, protecting our home market, guaranteeing a supply of essentials.
The history of privatising trains has been distaster – we get less for the fairs spent than anyone else in Europe. And I think there is a big discussion to be had as to whether we should nationalise land – anything over 100 acres. That way the benefits of improvement go to the public purse not individual landowners – as was suggested by Labour Party after WW2.
And the opposite - Free Markets?
Don’t try and tell me more markets are the answer. They have been major part of problem with food production. As the first head of the FAO noted – ‘Food producers are encouraged to produce more, but when they do the prices go down as market is saturated, so rewarded less’ that is not good motivation. The madness of markets, then in 1990s let everyone in to futures – result in Asian uprisings. Do NOT let the invisible hand of the market decide. Let’s do it for ourselves.
But the path inevitably involves higher costs for consumers, lower productivity from producers, less pressure to husband scarce resources, less concern about sustainability, more rent-seeking and capital accumulation, less investment in innovation, less dynamism and ultimately, less security as others forge ahead economically, scientifically and socially.
If we want to preserve that which we cherish - a thriving agriculture sector, a healthy rural economy, beautiful landscapes, rich habitats for wildlife, a just society and a fair economy - then we need to be able to shape change rather than seeking to resist it.
And subsidise that vision in all sorts of ways.. Why is that a crime?
And the best way to deal with change is to develop adaptability. As we know from the natural world, the best way to thrive in a new environment is to evolve. What we should, therefore be looking for in agriculture policy, indeed in all economic policy, is not an illusory fixity or a false sense of certainty, which by definition future events we cannot foresee will always upend.
Your ecological analysis fails when I remind that – as Charles Darwin made very clear, is not one of intent but accident.
What we should instead be seeking to cultivate are the resources, policies and people that will allow us to adapt, evolve and embrace change as an ally.
Quite, and so we need to invest in the long term through our research stations, sadly fallen by ¾ in last 25 years of neo-liberalism, whose job it was to do as you say.
Taking back control
Which takes me to Brexit.
Of course Brexit will mean change.
But, critically, what it means most of all is that we can once more decide how we shape change and how we meet the challenges ahead.
It means we don’t need any longer to follow the path dictated by the Common Agricultural Policy. We can have our own - national - food policy, our own agriculture policy, our own environment policies, our own economic policies, shaped by our own collective interests.
And perhaps debate?
The CAP was designed, like so many aspects of the EU, for another world, the post-war period when memories of food shortages were hauntingly powerful and the desire to support a particular model of land use was wrapped up with ideas of a stable countryside that seemed reassuringly attractive after the trauma of industrial-scale conflict.
Of course, the CAP has evolved, and indeed improved, over time. But it is still a fundamentally flawed design.
Paying land owners for the amount of agricultural land they have is unjust, inefficient and drives perverse outcomes.
It gives the most from the public purse to those who have the most private wealth.
Totally agree. So why not give it to workers instead? Instead of £3b going to landowners give it to 300,000 permanent workers, who could receive an extra £10,oo making for a proper living wages. They could grow the healthy food we need round where we need it – in the cities.
It bids up the price of land, distorting the market, creating a barrier to entry for innovative new farmers and entrenching lower productivity.
Indeed, perversely, it rewards farmers for sticking to methods of production that are resource-inefficient and also incentivises an approach to environmental stewardship which is all about mathematically precise field margins and not truly ecologically healthy landscapes.
As recent scholarship has shown, the so-called greening payments in Pillar One have scarcely brought any environmental benefits at all.
Agree agricultural stewardship not shown any benefits.
We can, and must, do better.
Reform begins at home
And by we, I mean Defra most of all.
Now I don’t want anyone to get hold of the wrong end of the stick.
The Department I am privileged to lead has some of the finest public servants in the country working for it.
Whether it’s the policy professionals, economic analysts, vets, IT engineers, botanists and horticulturalists or hydrologists and geologists, it is a pleasure to work with such dedicated, idealistic and passionate people. But while the people are brilliant, some of the processes are not.
The ways in which we provide financial support to farmers have been far too bureaucratic – not helped by the ludicrous rules and red tape of the CAP that Defra must try to enforce.
Sorry most of the blame for red tape must go to DEFRA – who were fined 31/2 billion by EU for getting Basic Payments paid so badly WRONG. The rest of the EU managed to pay out pretty well – so don’t blame EU for red tape. There was always an issue of whether we were ‘gold plating’ their regulations, while the rest of the EU knew how to interpret them less onerously. I always wondered why that was the case.
The Rural Payments Agency has historically taken far too long to get money from Government to farmers.
And the Countryside Stewardship schemes we have run have been dizzyingly complex to apply for – I have made my views on this clear.
Me too – waste of time and no benefit to the environment –in the book. Land Chapter.
All this when it’s our stated aim to allocate more funding for agri-environment schemes.
We have taken action in the last few months to drive change in these areas, and will seize opportunities to develop a different regulatory culture once we have left the European Union.
I am encouraged so far that the RPA paid over 91% of farmers their basic payment for this year by the end of December 2017. Encouraged but not satisfied. Which is why I am looking for a new chair of the RPA to work with the Chief Executive and his team to drive further improvement.
On Countryside Stewardship, I want schemes simplified to the extent that any farmer - any farmer - can complete an application in a working day. Starting at the computer after breakfast the whole process has to be able to be finished by six o’clock when it will be time for a well-deserved pint.
I’m pleased that Andrew Sells and his team have responded to the challenge with a set of simplified offers which have, already, received a warm response. But, again, we need to go further and develop a much more responsive and efficient model.
And decide what the targets are
And that’s not all we need to change.
Related to the whole question of how we allocate support, we also in Defra need to change our approach to inspection.
We inspect too often, too ineffectively and in far too many cases for the wrong things. At any moment, a farmer could be visited by the Rural Payments Agency, Natural England, The Animal Plant and Health Agency, the Environment Agency or their local authority. Each body may ask for slightly different information, or even the same information in a slightly different way. Each visit adds to the burden on farmers, yet there is much overlap without proper coordination. The CAP’s inflexibilities, including the ever present fear of disallowance, means we inspect rigidly for precise field margin dimensions and the exact locations of trees in a near-pointless exercise in bureaucratic box-ticking while, at the same time, we inspect haphazardly and inefficiently for genuine lapses such as poor slurry management or inadequate animal welfare.
Agree with a lot of this, but again is it of the EU making or our own? However farms are the most dangerous place to work in terms of likelihood of being killed at work (Ref) Despite this the HSE cannot afford to go on proactive inspections. In other words they only visit after an accident. Bit late then.
That is why I hope to look at how we can reduce the number of inspections overall, make them more genuinely risk-based and have them focus on those, limited, areas where standards are not where they should be.
If they were properly risk based there should be proactive HSE inspections. Simples.
And there is much more we need to change across the board to make the Department more effective.
Processes far beyond support payments and inspections are ripe for modernisation.
Take our guidance on the provision of export health certificates still requires the use of carbon paper. While IT systems have been improved we are still some way away from exploiting advances in data analytics which we can use to shape and refine policy and delivery.
And even at the most basic level we are not the champion we need to be for British food and farming. Despite hugely energetic efforts by my predecessors, we can still do more to improve the procurement of British food across the public sector.
I agree with this. EU laws make it difficult for public sectors to prefer local producers – they have to enable anyone in EU to bid – usually the ‘big boys’. Most other EU countries train up their public bodies to find ways to cope with this, only recently have we.
But I am determined to drive that change. Energetically. And across Government.
As well as making Defra a more efficient, focused and, above all, innovative department I also want to drive change in 4 specific areas.
I want to ensure we develop a coherent policy on food - integrating the needs of agriculture businesses, other enterprises, consumers, public health and the environment.
Second, I want to give farmers and land managers time and the tools to adapt to the future, so we avoid a precipitate cliff edge but also prepare properly for the changes which are coming.
Third, I want to develop a new method of providing financial support for farmers which moves away from subsidies for inefficiency to public money for public goods.
And finally, I want to ensure that we build natural capital thinking into our approach towards all land use and management so we develop a truly sustainable future for the countryside.
A lot on our plate
On food, first of all, I want to underline that I recognise the heart of almost all farming businesses is food production. And a core element of Defra’s mission is supporting farmers in the provision of competitively-priced, healthy, sustainable and nutritious food, and pursuing greater market access.
But I believe it’s critical as we think of food production and the role of farming in the future that we develop policy which looks at the food-chain as a whole, from farm to fork, and we also recognise the economic, health and environmental forces shaping the future of food.
That’s why I’m glad that my colleague Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, announced the creation of a Food and Drink Sector Council in his recent Industrial Strategy White Paper, whose first task will be to develop the emerging proposals for a food and drink manufacturing Sector Deal. The White Paper also committed to a new challenge fund to transform food production. This will help support farmers and food manufacturers to improve the sustainability and nutritional benefit of food.
That is not what I read in the Industrial Strategy. It was aimed at high end efficiency.
Food and Drink is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector and one of its fastest growing with an increase of 8% in exports to the EU and 10% in exports outside the EU in the first three quarters of last year alone.
That success has been built on a reputation for quality and provenance, on the knowledge that we have among the highest environmental and animal welfare standards of any nation on earth. So people know when they’re buying British they’re buying food which is guaranteed to be high quality and more sustainable.
That’s why it would be foolish for us to lower animal welfare or environmental standards in trade deals, and in so doing undercut our own reputation for quality. We will succeed in the global market place because we are competing at the top of the value chain not trying to win a race to the bottom.
And Government can help in that process by under-writing that reputation for quality.
Which is why I want us, outside the EU, to develop new approaches to food labelling. Not just badging food properly as British, but also creating a new gold-standard metric for food and farming quality.
I would like to share your enthusiasm, as I tto want that. And I think around 20-25% population can be persuaded to pay more for ‘quality’ – ‘organic’ ‘fair’ etc. But the vast majority want food as cheap as possible – hence rise of discount stores. Given choice, we choos cheap. That is why we don’t rely on themarket.
There are already a number of ways in which farmers can secure recognition for high animal welfare or environmental standards from the Red Tractor scheme to the Leaf mark. But while they’re all impressive and outstanding there’s still no single, scaled, measure of how a farmer or food producer performs against a sensible basket of indicators, taking into account such things as soil health, control of pollution, contribution to water quality as well as animal welfare. We’ve been in discussion with a number of farmers and food producers about how we might advance such a scheme and I think that, outside the EU, we could establish a measure of farm and food quality which would be world-leading.
I propose something similar in my book, and ways we could do that electronically. Except my standard includes fair wages to workers and better health and safety conditions – sadly missing from Red Tractor scheme. And what about union recognition too? But we could do this inside the EU!. Some said the EU wouldn’t allow us to have flags on food, but that proved to be wrong, once ASDA started to.
Because while price will always be a factor in the choices consumers make, they are also increasingly making choices based on other factors too. If we look at some of the fastest growing food brands, providing the most value added for both consumers and producers, then it’s being able to provide certainty over origins, traceability of ingredients, integrity in production and a distinctiveness in taste which matter more and more. Whether its Belvoir soft drinks or Botanist Gin, organic milk or West Country Farmhouse Cheddar, grass-fed beef from Devon or Welsh lamb, Cumberland sausages or Melton Mowbray pork pies, Tyrell’s crisps or Forman’s London cured smoked salmon, the future profits in food production lie in distinctive quality produce.
While I again agree with the thrust, this misses the issue about of GI – Geographic This protects status of say Melton Mowbray from others copying it. This is an EU scheme and there are no guarantees that they will protect our GI foods post Brexit. Why should they?
And Government can help, by acting as a champion for British produce in foreign markets, operating a better procurement policy at home, keeping existing market access open and securing new free trade deals for producers.
Sounds like a lot of hard work to do what we are already doing – inside the largest free market in the world...talking of which..
I understand that people in this room, and beyond, particularly want to know what will happen to access to our biggest export market - the EU 27. By definition, we cannot yet know the final outcome of a trade negotiation which is about to get underway, and Defra is preparing for every eventuality. But we are confident of building a new economic partnership with the EU that guarantees tariff-free access for agri-food goods across each other’s borders. We know that we have a deficit in agricultural and horticultural produce with the EU 27. Irish beef farmers, French butter and cheese producers, Dutch market gardeners and Spanish salad growers all have an interest just as, if not more acute, than Welsh sheep farmers or Ulster dairy farmers in securing continued tariff-free access between the UK and the EU.
How are you so confident about tariff free access? We – as part of EU, have been protected by high tariff walls – are you going to do away with them? Farming and Food have been protected for 40 years in EU – are you saying they should not be protected – we should be told. Are we keeping same tariffs or doing away with them? Remember the basic food problem in the EU is overproduction. Taking our 60 million mouths out of the equation will make a difference, for many in the EU to find other markets – but they already have big export plans in place – with whom we will have to compete. Something like 95% of lamb exports go to the EU. The French will not allow the tariff walls that will be erected automatically on Brexit to become ‘tariff free’ as they want to sell their lamb to their own,a nd have complained about Welsh lamb for years. There are major issues about tariffs – 2000 of them plus the 15000 of processed foods that are not going to be sorted by glib statements that it is in their interests to do deals.
When we come out of the EU, as it stands, there will be tariffs on food coming in, and tariffs on food going in to the EU. Two big tariff cliffs either side of the Channel. This is Gove’s preferred position during the transition period. Tariff both ways means the Customs people start stopping lorries to calculate the dosh. The alternative – being pushed by Wetherspoons Chatham House, and the Economist is to do away with tariffs altogether. This would enable lots of cheap food to come in – destroying our rual communities.
But we should be, and we are, more ambitious than that. Securing greater access to, and penetration of, other markets will be important to British agriculture’s further success. Increasing exports to, for example, China is not just a good in itself in trade terms it also helps the business model of many farmers to work even better. There are, as we all know, parts of the pig for example which don’t find favour with the British consumer but which are delicacies in China. Satisfying that demand means other parts of the carcase can be used to meet demand at home, or indeed elsewhere in Europe, which is currently met by Dutch and by Danish farmers. Pursuing new trade opportunities outside Europe can make us more competitive with Europe.
The answer to that is shipping offal to China? I don’t think so – even the pig semen deal turned out to be worth thousands instead of millions. China is a lot more interested in importing millions of tons of soya from Brazil than offal from Britian.
Which is why it is so encouraging that my colleague Liam Fox has made boosting our trade in food and drink a central priority for 2018.
Basically the food export plan of this government is to sell more booze round the world.
Government can also intervene closer to home where there is market failure. When, for example some powerful players in the food chain use the scale of their market presence to demand low prices from primary producers who are much smaller and dis-aggregated. That is why my colleague George Eustice is looking now at overall fairness in the supply chain.
We have heard that before. The Grocery Adjudicator (not full name) didn’t make much difference.
We can ensure that our interventions as Government are designed to generate growth are applied fairly. So, for example, we can look at how the apprenticeship levy works to see how money identified for improving skills training can be spent more effectively across supply chains - helping smaller businesses as well as larger concerns.
The problem with labour in the food chain isn’t that we need more skills – although we do want that, but that many of the jobs are unskilled, poorly paid and dreadful conditions – which many people do not want to do. This is the glaring issue in the food chain – 2000 Modern Slaves, 100,000 Migrant workers in fields and many 1000s in abattoirs and meal making factories., and poor small farmers on the breadline. See Chapter 5 for much more.
We can, and should, invest in both technology and infrastructure. We can direct public money to the public goods of scientific innovation, technology transfer and, crucially, decent universal super-fast broadband.
How much? There is around £150m gone to N8 universities to cover some of this, but we are losing all the EU joint project s covering agro-ecology, student schemes and much more.
And we must, of course, think about how to make sure the labour market works effectively as well, so businesses can continue to secure a proper return on their investment. That means not just a flexible migration policy overall, but as we leave the EU, ensuring access to seasonal agricultural labour.
So what will change? Will the fields look the same – as this is where Brexit started? You (Theresa May to be exact) did away with the Seasonal Agric Workers Scheme, so are you going to bring it back?
But while Government has a clear role to play in all of these areas in supporting food production it’s also important that we all appreciate that ultimately, quality food is generated not by Government, but by innovative and entrepreneurial producers responding to consumer preferences and market signals.
And the best way to ensure consumers have the full choice of quality food they want is not to try to satisfy every need with home produce, but to pursue comparative advantage.
I don’t understand that. Why not start from trying to satisfy food need from home? After all we now have taken control of our land?
So Government must recognise that its interventions need to be targeted, proportionate and limited.
Subsidies linked to the size of land holding, or headage payments, reward incumbents, restrict new thinking and ultimately hold back innovation and efficiency.
Industries which come to rely on importing cheap labour run the risk of failing to invest in the innovation required to become genuinely more productive. Labour-intensive production inevitably lags behind capital-intensive production.
While there is a supply of cheap labour (either here or abroad), there will not be investment – especially when the future returns are so risky. This is the bitter truth rather than the land of milk and honey.
And having a subsidy system which incentivises farmers to place every acre they can into food production means that public money isn’t always being spent on renewing natural capital assets like forestry and wetlands.
There is no incentive for ‘farmers to place every acre they can into food production’ – especially when there is overproduction. There need not be a contradiction between food and say forestry. We need to grow our food less intensively and with more diversity. And we need the technologies to do that – unfortunately our Agric Engineering Research Station at Silsoe closed about 10 years ago.
As well as thinking about how our interventions to support food production currently affect the environment, we also have to consider the impact on the nation’s health.
Ours is the first generation where more people succumb to non-communicable conditions than to infectious diseases. The risk to public health from contagious conditions is diminishing, the rising dangers are obesity, diabetes, coronary failure, cancer and deteriorating mental health. And diet plays a part in all these conditions.
Helping people to make better choices in what they eat is fraught territory politically. And looking at my own waistline I should bear in mind that it is incumbent on he who talks about dietary sins to lose the first stone.
But Government does have a public health role. As Education Secretary I introduced a School Food Plan not just to ensure school meals were healthier but also to educate children about where food came from and how to make healthy choices about buying, preparing and enjoying food.
And in this role now, I have a responsibility to ask if public money supporting food production is also contributing to improved public health.
I totally agree. Lets ask that question and see where we go..
And indeed I also have a responsibility to ask if all the incentives and Government interventions everywhere in the food chain work towards economic justice and social inclusion.
So that does mean on the one hand that means asking how we can support those farmers, for example upland sheep farmers, whose profit margins are more likely to be small but whose contribution to rural life and the maintenance of iconic landscapes is immense. And on the other it also involves taking action to end the currently indefensible situation we have at the moment where food producers are incentivised to send perfectly edible and nutritious surplus stock they have not sold to waste plants rather than charities who can distribute it to individuals in need.
It is only, I believe, by looking at food policy in the round, developing an understanding of the economic, social, environmental, health and other issues at every stage in the food chain that we will develop the right coherent strategy for the future.
And there are huge opportunities for those in agriculture to play the leading role in shaping this strategy. Rather than devoting intellectual energy and political capital to campaigning for policy interventions designed to insulate farming from change, agriculture’s leaders can respond to growing public interest in debates about food, animal welfare, the environment, health and economic justice by demonstrating, as so many in this room are doing, how their innovative and dynamic approaches are enhancing the environment, safeguarding animal welfare, producing food of the highest quality, improving public health and contributing to a fairer society.
I look forward to that debate. I just wish the Labour Party were part of it, but they seem completely silent on most of these matters.
Now given the scale, and nature, of the change which is coming I recognise that farmers need to be given the time, and the tools, to become more adaptable.
We’ll be saying more about our plans in a Command Paper to be published later this spring. And of course the proposals we outline will have to be subject to consultation. But I want to say a little about the direction of travel I think we should take.
I believe we should help land owners and managers to make the transition from our current system of subsidy to a new approach of public money for public goods over time.
We will formally leave the EU in March of 2019 but the Government anticipates that we will agree an implementation or transition period for the whole country with the EU lasting for around another two years.
We have guaranteed that the amount we allocate to farming support - in cash terms - will be protected throughout and beyond this period right up until the end of this Parliament in 2022.
We will continue support for Countryside Stewardship agreements entered into before we leave the EU and we will ensure that no one in an existing scheme is unfairly disadvantaged when we transition to new arrangements. We will pay the 2019 BPS scheme on the same basis as we do now.
I then envisage guaranteeing that BPS payments continue for a transition period in England, which should last a number of years beyond the implementation period, depending on consultation.
During these years, we propose to first reduce the largest BPS payments in England. We could do this through a straight cap at a maximum level or through a sliding scale of reductions, to the largest payments first.
After the implementation period, this transitional payment could be paid to the recipient without the need to comply with all the onerous existing cross-compliance rules and procedures.
Inspections would, of course, continue but in the streamlined and risk-based fashion I described earlier. Provided our own animal welfare, environmental and other laws were observed this payment would be guaranteed.
(Re Animal Welfare inspections..where are the Vets going to come from – most are EU migrants, from Portugal and Spain especially?)..
This should provide every existing farmer who receives a BPS payment with a guaranteed income over this extended transition period.
That guaranteed income should provide time for farmers to change their business model if necessary, help to make the investment necessary for any adjustments and prepare for the future.
We will also look at ways to support farmers who may choose to leave the industry.
And, after that transition, we will replace BPS with a system of public money for public goods.
My suggestion in the book is that the £3+b should go to paying 300,000 workers and extra £10,000 yr to do the jobs we want them to do – to deliver Gove’s agenda outlined above. Pay them to plant fruit trees, grow vegetables in more divers ways rather than relying on monocutures and migrants, linking markets in cities with nearby producers etc.
Paying for what we value
The principal public good we will invest in is of course environmental enhancement.
And what about decent wages for hard working farm folk? Somebody has to do the environmental enhancement.
In thinking about how better to support farmers in the work of environmental protection and enhancement it’s critical - as everyone in this room but not everyone outside appreciates - to recognise that there is no inherent tension between productive farming and care for the natural world.
Quite the opposite.
I have seen for myself how many of our best farmers – our most productive and progressive farmers – place thoughtful environmental practice and careful husbanding of resources at the heart of their businesses.
Take the vital question of soil health. Min or no till approaches, which require less expenditure on inputs and of course keep more carbon in the soil, are both economically more efficient and environmentally progressive.
No till isn’t the be all and end all – still carbon loss, and depends on glyphosate..See Chap 6 on Land, and 7 on Sustainability.
But under the CAP, farmers have been encouraged to focus on yield overall, rather than productivity specifically.
This has led to decades of damage in the form of significant and destructive soil erosion – estimated in one study by Cranfield University to cost the economy around £1.2 billion every year.
Around 2 million tonnes lost in erosion – to river and air. But what land is most vulnerable? And most of this is of arable land..especially in the East growing our vegetables with monocultures on our BEST land..Not the family farms in the West growing animals on poorer land – so reward them more....
We now have opportunity to reverse this unhappy trend. Sustainably managed land is far more productive than land that is stressed and stripped of its nutrients.
But moving to more sustainable and, ultimately, productive farming methods can involve transitional costs and pressures. So we plan to provide new support for those who choose to farm in the most sustainable fashion.
And as well as supporting progressive and productive farming methods we also want to support what economists call the provision of ecosystem services.
Building on previous countryside stewardship and agri-environment schemes, we will design a scheme accessible to almost any land owner or manager who wishes to enhance the natural environment by planting woodland, providing new habitats for wildlife, increasing biodiversity, contributing to improved water quality and returning cultivated land to wildflower meadows or other more natural states.
Whatever happened to the tried and tested methods for maintaining good land? Eg. Rotations – good at maintaining fertility and reducing diseases and pests. Didn’t the EU have a law regulation about that which your predessor describe as ‘ridiculous’ (check). And what about mixed farming? That would do more than anything – and you can blame the EU for getting rid of that – the McSharry regime did in the early 1990’s. And you can blame them too for grubbling up lots of fruit trees,,so why not re-introduce that too?
We will also make additional money available for those who wish to collaborate to secure environmental improvements collectively at landscape scale.
Good. I suugested something similar in the book – it should not all be down to individual actions.
Enhancing our natural environment is a vital mission for this Government. We are committed to ensuring we leave the environment in a better condition than we found it. And leaving the European Union allows us to deliver the policies required to achieve that - to deliver a Green Brexit.
We do not have to leave the EU to achieve these aims. At present there is major debate in EU to ‘nationalise’ the CAP – ie delegate farm and food policy to national level. The French don’t like, but if we were in there we could achieve all the above - in about the same time frame.
But vital as investment in our environment is, it is not the only public good I think we should invest in - I believe we should also invest in technology and skills alongside infrastructure, public access and rural resilience.
There is a tremendous opportunity for productivity improvement in our farms. We already have some of the best performing farms in the world and there is no reason why our farmers cannot lead the way globally in achieving better levels of productivity through adoption of best practice and new technologies.
On technology, we should build on the innovations pioneered by our superb higher education institutions like Harper Adams University by investing more in automation and machine learning, moving from the hands-free hectare to the hands-free farm, with drilling, harvesting, picking and packaging all automated, precision mapping of every inch under cultivation with targeted laser treatment of pests and weeds and highly-focussed application of any other treatment required. We should invest more in the sensor technology that can tell where, when and how livestock should be fed, housed and bred to maximise both yield and individual animal health and welfare.
I’m afraid that Harper Adams is about the ONLY ‘superb higher education institution’. I gained two higher degrees in agricultural science form another one – Wye College London University. But it was closed down a few years ago. As have ¾ of all the land based research stations in the last 25 years. While I share much of your vision, and want the debate you spell out, you should have another heading ‘Pie in the Sky’. And in the book – under Science I spell out loads more research projects we need to look at – about mob grazing, soil health (I am a soil zoologist, as seen on Gardners World a few months ago)
And we should ensure the next generation of farmers are equipped to make the most of technological breakthroughs by better integrating the research work being undertaken by the most innovative institutions with the ongoing training those working on the land should receive. I hope to say more about how we can reform land-based education again later in the spring.
Good, as we have lost so much. Whiel I was Specialist Adviser to EFRA Selct Committee on Food Security, we identified the gap between research and farmers – one that did not exist when I woz a student.
Critical to making this new investment in tech and skills work is of course proper infrastructure - super-fast broadband and reliable 5G coverage. If I can get reliable and unbroken mobile phone and internet coverage in a tunnel under the Atlantic as I travel between one Faeroe Island and the next I should be able to get it in Oxfordshire. So I am delighted that my colleague Matt Hancock has made it a priority to ensure rural areas get the digital infrastructure they need and I will do whatever I can to help.
I have heard that for about the last 10 years..
Public access I know can be contentious and I won’t get into the weeds of the debate on rights of way now. But the more the public, and especially school children, get to visit, understand and appreciate our countryside the more I believe they will appreciate, support and champion our farmers. Open Farm Sunday and other great initiatives like it help reconnect urban dwellers with the earth. And they also help secure consent for investment in the countryside as well as support for British produce. So public access is a public good.
You made sure children learn about cooking at school, can you add to that ‘growing’. Each school have an allotment and are encouraged to store local seeds for future generations
Finally there is rural resilience. There are any number of smaller farm and rural businesses which help keep communities coherent and ensure the culture in agriculture is kept healthy. Whether it’s upland farmers in Wales or Cumbria, crofters in Scotland or small livestock farmers in Northern Ireland, we need to ensure support is there for those who keep rural life vital. The work of the Prince’s Countryside Fund has been invaluable here and the kind of enterprises that it supports are, I believe, worthy of public support.
Yes, but if you reduce tariffs on imported foodstuffs, as many of your colleagues will try to do, they will be STUFFED. It will bel amb farmers to the slaughter.
I recognise the list of public goods I have identified is not exhaustive. But then our budget is not unlimited. I look forward to consulting on these priorities but we must start from the presumption that we should only support clear public goods the market will not, left to itself, provide.
Which takes me to the importance of natural capital.
In thinking of our countryside, and of rural life overall, is that its overall worth to us goes far beyond its economic value alone.
Like everyone here, I am moved by the beauty of our natural landscapes, feel a sense of awe and wonder at the richness and abundance of creation, value wild life as a good in its own right, admire those who work with nature and on our land, respect the skill and passion of farmers, growers, shepherds, stockmen, vets and agronomists who provide us with safe, high quality food and drink, and I want to see them prosper.
Include the farm workers and count me in.
I know these feelings are shared across the country. But capturing these values in public policy can sometimes be difficult. Which is why the natural capital approach can be so valuable. It allows us to bed into policy-making a direct appreciation of the importance of field and forest, river and wetland, healthy soil and air free from pollution.
As I said earlier, the classic contradiction for capital is that it needs labour. That applies to natural capital too.
It is just one tool among many in the formation of policy but a very powerful one in ensuring that we think of our responsibility to future generations to hand on a country, and a planet, in a better state than we found it.
And that has to be the aim for all our policies on food, farming, the landscape and our broader environment. We have to embrace change which secures a more sustainable future for those who will inherit what we have built.
Published 5 January 2018