The next government must sort out the basic payments scheme as a matter of urgency. But what else should it do? We asked farming organisations to outline their priorities for Defra after the general election on 7 May.
- Agriculture Industries Confederation
- Country Land & Business Association
- Countryside Alliance
- Crop Protection Association
- Farmers For Action
- Farmers Union of Wales
- NFU Cymru
- NFU Scotland
- Soil Association
- Tenant Farmers Association
Agriculture Industries Confederation
While it acknowledges recent “pump-priming” initiatives introduced to support a wide range of innovation in the growth and processing of agricultural products, the AIC points out that these will only be effective if the industry can have confidence in the medium-term future.
AIC chief executive David Caffall says: “These include fiscal measures such as a tax regime that encourages research, innovation and business development, as well as appropriate regulation which does not place a heavy burden on our members or the industry that they serve.”
A notable example was the concept of ‘earned recognition’ where those who abide by regulatory codes and voluntary schemes can expect a lighter touch in terms of inspection. “We would like to see more of this in the future,” says Mr Caffell.
Country Land & Business Association
More than 30 parliamentary candidates – including every Defra secretary since 2011 – have now signed up to the CLA Pledge for a Thriving Countryside, which aims to engage politicians on issues that matter to people who live and work in rural areas.
CLA president Henry Robinson says MPs have a responsibility to champion those who live and work in the countryside. “It is vital that candidates understand that this is vital to maintaining vibrant countryside communities and make a significant contribution to Britain’s GDP.”
Among other demands, the CLA wants the next government to stop gold-plating rules so that the farming sector can compete with other EU member states while delivering environmental benefits, arguing that it is vital that UK farmers are not put at a competitive disadvantage.
Single country labels for processed meat should mean that the animal was born, reared and slaughtered in that country, it says. Stringent country of origin labelling on all meat products would improve traceability, making it harder for unlabelled meat to enter the food chain.
The 2013 horsemeat scandal highlighted the vital importance of clear food labelling, particularly with respect to processed meat products, says the alliance. Yet it remains the case that sausages made in Britain using Danish pork can still legally be labelled as “British”.
The introduction of legislation making it a legal requirement for the country of origin to be included on food containing meat would support British farmers and provide British consumers with greater choice and confidence, says the alliance.
Crop Protection Association
The Crop Protection Association wants a UK Food Plan which includes three key priorities: the “Food Proofing” of policymaking, a commitment to science-based decision making, and the championing of innovation and proper risk management.
CPA chief executive Nick von Westenholz says: “The CPA is urging the next UK government to properly support domestic food production, while pursuing a pragmatic yet robust approach in Europe towards the policies and regulations affecting British agriculture.
“By adopting a strategic approach to food policy the government can begin to combat concerns about our own food security, help drive job creation and economic growth and meet our moral obligation to help feed a growing global population.”
Domestic food production needs should be properly considered in the development and implementation of policy. The government should take in to consideration any impact on innovation and there should be proper risk-assessment on matters where questions of precaution arise.
Farmers for Action
“The industry has suffered from a lack of processing investment, the power of the retailer is not being addressed and they have been allowed to devalue milk and dairy products to the extent that they become throwaway products,” says Mr Handley.
“They need to start by telling us not what we already know, but how they can address the problems.
“A future government has got to look at the likes of France. Why now, as an EU country, can’t we adopt the same practices to protect our food as France does? Politicians like to talk a lot about food security.”
But the next government really needs to back British farming and dairying farming 100%. “We need less rhetoric and more action from politicians,” Mr Handley says. “No more fanciful words.”
Farmers Union of Wales
The Farmers Union of Wales wants research into all areas of agriculture to be conducted in a manner that properly reflects the importance of agriculture in terms of food security, the environment and climate change.
“It should increase funding for agricultural research into upland farming, with a particular emphasis on upland crops and restoring pasture productivity,” says union president Emyr Jones.
“There should also be a move to curb the dominance of the major agrochemical companies over important areas of research such as GMOs by increasing funding for research into areas that are of public benefit.”
NFU president Meurig Raymond says: ““I want to see a robust plan for increasing the productive potential of farming, stimulating investment. The next government needs to commit to taking positive action to reverse the decline in Britain’s self-sufficiency and ensure that every government department commits to back British farming and to working closely with the NFU to grow the rural economy.”
British farmers face the challenge of increase food production with fewer inputs and better care for the environment, says the NFU. By backing British farming and working together there was a unique opportunity to increase food production by supporting research, investment and growth.
“The opportunities are clear – global and domestic demand for food and renewable energy is on the rise; 88% of the UK public think farming is important to the economy. Farmers are ready, too, with the potential to grow production and reduce our reliance on imported produce.”
NFU Cymru president Stephen James says: “I would like to see hospitals, schools and local authorities in Wales buying food that has been grown by Welsh farmers. Every year the public sector spends over £2bn on food and it is shameful how little of this is British.”
The public sector should demonstrate its support to Welsh farmers by buying top quality local food. “Locally produced food doesn’t necessarily cost more; in fact can often lead to savings so sourcing the cheapest produce is not necessarily the most cost effective approach,” says Mr James.
“Horsegate should have been a turning point away from sourcing purely on price but astonishingly it wasn’t. We are becoming a nation reliant on food imports from abroad and the current approach to public sector procurement is certainly fuelling this.”
Convergence funding is allocated to member states that have a lower average payment than the EU average. Scotland’s average farm payment is £130ha – well below the European average of £196/ha – which meant the UK received an additional €223m (£163m) in 2015.
The Scottish government argued that the whole fund should go north of the border but Defra decided to share the money between all UK farmers, not only producers in Scotland. NFU Scotland president Allan Bowie wants Defra ministers to honour a pledge to review this decision in 2016.
Devolved administration ministers must also be fully involved in agreeing the UK position in negotiations relating to devolved policy matters, he says.
Soil erosion and degradation is one of the greatest threats to food security, and yet there is no comprehensive soil protection framework in the EU, unlike other areas of concern, such as water, biodiversity and air, she explains.
“Putting soil centre stage will increase the quality and yields of crops; improve farming’s resilience to drought and flood; help manage water supplies, and make a significant contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
“The new government should support widespread soil monitoring and fund much more research, including on the impacts of pesticides on soil microbiology. They should set targets for improving soil organic matter, and incentivise farmers to switch away from maize, or at least ensure it is undersown to stop erosion.”
Tenant Farmers’ Association
TFA chief executive George Dunn says: “FBTs were intended to improve land use efficiency within agriculture whilst increasing opportunities for progressing farmers and new entrants. Short-term tenancies hold back progression, investment and sustainable land use.”
“The next government must restrict 100% Inheritance Tax relief on let land to landlords letting for 10 years or more. And it should clamp down on landowners using share farming, contract farming, share partnerships and grazing licences as veneers of trading activity to gain tax advantage.”
Landlords letting for 10 years or more should be offered the ability to treat rental income as trading income for tax. Those landlords should also be given easier mechanisms to end tenancies where a tenant is in breach or where there is development opportunity, subject to compensation to the tenant.