To avoid a case Chinese whispers if I relay some of the facts wrong, I’m not going to try and explain what exactly the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) is, instead I’m going to be slightly lazy and just give you the link to the website... www.cfeonline.org.uk and just say that it’s a voluntary initiative designed to help show that farmers can produce food and care for the environment (matching and improving the benefits set-a-side used to provide) at the same time, without the need for government legislation. It is backed by a number of industry bodies including the NFU, CLA, FWAG, Defra, RSPB, LEAF and Environment Agency to name a few.
However I will try and explain how important I think it is that farmers get involved with it.
Over the last few day’s I’ve been following the Fwi forum thread regarding the (CFE) and the warning from farms minister Jim Plaice (http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2011/02/09/125422/Minister-to-farmers-Go-green-or-else.htm) that unless more is done by farmers - to ensure CFE is a success - then the government may consider a compulsory approach – something that has already been done in France, and is resulting in the French pushing for compulsory set-a-side across the EU. This would also not be like the old type of set-a-side, and would involve more environmental management and probably no chance to grow industrial crops such as OSR on it. This, it seems has not gone down well with some farmers, with the main arguments being that they already do alot of what the CFE is asking and why do we need more ‘red tape’ and forms to fill in? The other main argument is that half the world is starving, so why are we being ‘forced’ to take land out of production.It’s not all bad news, with alot of the negativity being focused on the need to carry out more form filling, most agree that a lot of farmers already have the voluntary measures required by CFE in place so actually the environment is still benefitting – CFE or not. However, this is also where the problem arises (and my disagreement) because there is a very important reason for taking part in the CFE and filling in the surveys and, believe it or not, that is too actually reduce the amount of ‘red tape’, form filling and ultimately government legislation that forces farmers by law to do more for the environment (probably in less convenient and flexible ways to what’s available currently as well).
Most of the ‘anti’ CFE comments are valid points, but unfortunately, it’s not reasonable or practical to expect the public or government to simply allow farmers to farm every hectare possible or to expect a sudden reduction in legislation, paperwork and ‘red tape’ – these may become a reality if there is a further significant increase in the demand for food worldwide, or continued increase in food prices that change the current views on the environment and food production. This maybe a fairly blunt view, but as I see it form filling and legislation compliance is here to stay, just like in other industries – farming is just higher profile and has lot more people who want to tell us how to do things – resulting in the industry having to be ‘extra compliant’ via more red tape etc.
Regrettably as an industry we’re going to have to get used to the paperwork and inspections, as even if the environmental legislations/policies change, there will probably still be assurance schemes and pesticide regulations or anything else that could affect the health and well being of the consumer.Overall, I think alot of the criticisms of the CFE are down to people not understanding how it works, and what the effects of it failing are, rather than actually not wanting to look after the environment. There are still those who think we should farm every Ha and that the environment will look after itself, but the past has shown this is not always the case – which is one of the main reasons we’re in the situation we are now. I haven’t got any better ideas on how to inform people about CFE’s importance and implications of it failing, but firing warning messages at people who are confused about what they’re being warned about doesn’t seem to have worked 100%...