Last week’s Farmers Guardian had a couple of short pieces on the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, answering the question ‘Is it working?’. I was asked to write the piece saying ‘No’ and this is what I wrote:

“The CFE is a Big Society approach – ironically one set by the last Labour Government. Would farmers replace the environmental benefits of set-aside, without any extra incentive or regulation, just because they were asked to do it? I hope the answer will be ‘yes’, but am pretty sure that it will be ‘no’.

 Unless many more farmers make the right choices about in-field options, voluntary measures and uncropped land in the next few weeks the CFE will miss its targets. There will be no hiding place – it will be clear that the NFU and CLA failed to persuade farmers to volunteer.

 Agriculture Minister James Paice has already warned that if CFE fails then he will ‘consider a compulsory approach’, and so he should – three years will have been lost for nothing. Although, if Defra moves sufficiently boldly to improve the ELS prescriptions then no further action to replace set-aside’s environmental benefits would be needed. Come on Minister, what’s the problem?

 If my fears are right then this will be a slap in the face for all those farmers who rose to the challenge, entered agri-environment schemes, put in voluntary measures and adopted in-field options. Those who did their bit will have been let down by those who didn’t, but then, ‘twas always thus with voluntary approaches.

 If I’m wrong, and CFE delivers all its key targets, then I’ll buy Peter Kendall and William Worsley a bottle of champagne each because we will all be celebrating.”

The NFU were asked to write the ‘yes’ version and this appeared under the name of their Director of Policy, Martyn Howarth.

“It took a lot of courage for the previous and current Governments to put farming at the heart of the solution when it looked for a new approach to mitigate the loss of set-aside while avoiding more regulation.


Since its launch in November 2009, however, the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) has come under repeated attack from those who doubt its ability to deliver results.


It’s worth taking stock of the CFE’s achievements in its two short years. For example, we’re seeing the uptake of key ELS options move in the right direction with the latest figures demonstrating farmers have put 50,911 hectares (125,803 acres) into ELS key target options supporting the CFE. In addition, almost 8,000 farmers and advisers attended workshops and conferences in the past 12 months.


There’s no denying there is still a lot to be done to ensure the CFE’s success but perhaps its most remarkable achievement is the fact we now have a partnership committed to tackling a shared challenge; one that is engaging in a mature and informed debate.


Together with the RSPB’s new face of conservation, Martin Harper, we want to see our energy focused on working with farmers.


This in itself means the farmed environment is in a better place and will help us to meet the challenges of producing more food, fuel and fibre alongside a healthy environment – challenges that will only grow in the decades ahead.”



What the NFU doesn’t say – maybe because it knows it could be proved false in future – is ‘Of course the CFE will meet all its targets.  The NFU President, Peter Kendall, has not rested from his task of enthusing farmers to join the CFE – and they have in their droves.  This is going to be a great success for the Big Society approach, farmers and for the NFU.’.

And I wonder whether it is significant that this piece did not appear under Peter Kendall’s name.

One of the great things about being an independent commentator is that one can write things as one sees them – as I did in this article.  If I am wrong then I’ll be very happy to buy the champers, but if I’m right I won’t expect anything from the NFU, although we should expect something from Defra if the CFE fails – regulation to ensure that environmental benefits are produced.  Fat chance? We should all hope that farmers rise to the challenge and I am buying the champagne.



17 Replies to “CFE and NFU”

  1. Mark, you buy the champagne, and I’ll rent a tux, hire a limo, and come and serve it to the NFU ‘leadership’ on behalf of grateful birdwatchers everywhere to celebrate resurgent bird, invertebrate, and plant populations – though I doubt very much whether my services will be called upon.
    The top bods at the NFU no longer have you to you use an excuse for feeling unloved and therefore incapable of doing anything, I wonder what they’ll come up with this time…

  2. Well said Mark. I do hope you will be buying the champagne but I very much doubt it. I think you cash is safe! Looking at the wider issue, I think we have to ask why these wildlife/ biodiversity improvement targets set by Governments, The EU, and other leading bodies such as the NFU are consistently missed, often by wide margins. It is not just the odd target that is missed it is virtually all of them. It does tend to make one very sceptical to say the least. Either they do not do their homework properly before hand to identify what effort is needed to achieve these targets or they set them knowing quite well that they are not likely to be met. Either way it is yet another example of the question, do our politicians and administrators have the necessary knowledge, quality and courage when it matters or do they just take the short term easy way out? One tends to think it is the latter

  3. Apologies for slightly wonky layout. I had a lot of difficulty pasting in the NFU comments – it was almost as though WordPress couldn’t cope with them either………..

  4. Mark – You are probably factually correct, but as I have written before in your pages there is another factor working against everyone including the NFU – the little matter of the RPA. Few farmers are likely to risk signing up to ELS or HLS, whilst there is real concern and evidence that the RPA operates its inspections in an unhelpful manner. I used the word Pharisaic then and I use it again. The fact is that farmers need encouragement and that is not just exhortation from PK, it is help, explanation and leadership. It is seriously unhelpful for the RPA to think they should operate in isolation, just because they think they are the holders of the national conscience, because it is public money. The RPA can put fear into anyone because they can withhold serious sums of money and no one holds them to account. Why should farmers risk it for the pittance that is ELS, when compared to SFP? I suggest you focus on the known reality rather than speculate that CFE will fail. Why not help to solve RPA intransigence and then CFE will succeed.

  5. Hi Mark,whatever you think I actually agree with most of your thoughts but perhaps do not put enough emphasis on that side.Think it would be nice if there was some way of connecting with most farmers without your emphasis of how disatisfied you are with NFU.Think sadly in the real world it all comes down to cash is king so perhaps we do have to pay more to get more wildlife friendly farming.Am not having a go at conservationists but you know farmers get pride from as they see it farming well and getting high production which has been the holy grail for the 2nd half of last century,now perhaps we need to temper that ingrained philosophy and persuade them to get pride from more wildlife.Think underneath you being very academic realise this change is difficult for farmers to change and it would be nice for them if you managed to acknowlege that fact.

  6. Birdseye The way to use acronyms is to first time state what the acronym means because most acronyms have multiple meanings. SWIM!! (see what I mean)
    I totally agree with the idea that if environmental payments do not produce the goods then a legislative approach is totally necessary.
    Today I have been looking at invertebrate populations on some different types of meadowland. A local nature reserve which has had no major environmental changes for decades contained possibly 100 times the invertebrate numbers of slightly more highly managed areas. I believe the way forward is for the government to DICTATE that 10% of all farmland area should be managed solely for invertebrates and wildflowers otherwise no farm grants will be provided. Why should one family have sole posession of perhaps a farm of in excess of 200 hectares with a more than adequate income level and still allow areas of high conservation values to deteriorate in order to satisfy levels of extreme greed.

    1. Dave H – thanks for your comments. I agree that we don’t really realise how low invertebrate populations are in the wider countryside. It’s one of the things where travel broadens the mind. Travel to most parts of the continent and one is surrounded by insects. So it’s not surprising that wildlife generally has suffered here.

      And thank you for making me look pusillanimous and feeble in my views about farming!

  7. Good Morning Dave H
    Thank you for the Blog writing lesson – I apologise I had assumed that anyone engaging in the discussion about birds, farmers, subsidy and their travails knew the commonly used acronyms Rural Payments Agency [RPA] Entry Level Scheme ELS and guess Higher Level Scheme [HLS] National Farmers Union [NFU] Single Farm Payment [SFP] Campaign for the Farmned Environment [CFE]. I hope that helps. As to your comments to Mark even in totalitarian states conservation values have plummeted, so Isuggest ‘tried that one, did not work, move on’.

  8. Hope this does not come over as rude but DaveH comment leads us to perfect communism and means if he owns his house or has money he shares it with less fortunate,even probably means he supports rioters wanting equal share of relative well off.
    Farmers have in all probability provided him with reasonable priced food all his life and while I would like farmers to get more wildlife friendly can promise him if 10% of farmland goes for birds all over the EU then we will see more images of starving people on our tv screens.
    Sounds to me like he would prefer a dictatorship where everyone not only farmers had to do exactly as told.
    You cannot just pick on one group.

  9. Hello everyone,

    Interesting points raised here and I feel compelled to respond!

    Seems to me that whilst farmers and land managers are in receipt of public money they can be told what they have to do for that public money – that could be the SFP, ELS or HLS etc. Isn’t it time that tax payers asked for a fairer deal and return for their investment (50% of EU budget).

    If they aren’t in receipt of any public funds then within the law they can farm totally for the world market….seems fair enough to me. No Farmer HAS to claim SFP.

    UK produces about 1% of the worlds cereal harvest and most arable farms have c.10% of less productive areas that could be used for nature friendly practices. On that basis there are not going to be more hungry / starving people due to what we give over to wildlife.

    Of course wildlife shouldn’t be seen in isolation of food production anyway – you need wildlife to pollinate crops or provide pest control etc.

    If the time comes that we can’t keep hold of our skylarks because we need every inch of land to feed ourselves, that will be very clear alarm that we are stuffed anyway, so we may as well forget it and go down the pub! (by which time it will be £20 per pint!).

  10. Simon think you miss the point of to claim SFP farmers have to do as requested.
    Most of SFP anyway has been paid to keep food relatively cheap and though Mark disputes this there is without doubt evidence in abundance that we all work less hours now to get the weekly shop than we ever have.
    Farmers primarily produce food and nature reserves are exactly that and farmers do not even ask them to produce 10% food for human consumption and I suspect that they collect all the Pillar one as well as Pillar two which is just as dubious as farmers collecting SFP as at least we have to do what conservationists over the years have demanded we do although they seem to be backtracking and saying that really that has not worked we demand you do more.
    As I have said before conservationists are a very small % of population and that massive majority if you will only admit the facts are not interested in wildlife they just want cheap food for their family and certain blogs I have seen by chance state this in no uncertain terms.
    Personally think there is a way of providing both but afraid conservationists either completely out of touch with the opinion of majority or perhaps want to ignore it and ride roughshod over the vast majority.
    However small our % of total cereal harvest it is totally irrelevant as something like 25% of world population is undernourished and those poor souls need every 0.1% of help they can hope to get and 10% of total EU farm output is considerable.
    Of course another case for producing as much of our own food as possible is that we are in serious financial difficulty as a nation and if we import more food as opposed to growing it ourselves it puts us and next generation deeper in debt.

    1. Dennis – you have come back again with the statement that the SFP keeps food cheap. But again you don’t give us any evidence that giving our money to farmers makes our food bills cheaper. Yes, there is no doubt that food is cheaper now – completely agree with that, but so are TVs and books and most other things in real terms – but how does the SFP contribute to this? You still haven’t answered that question so please don’t keep stating that payments to farmers keep food cheap.

  11. Well think you know that I cannot answer that but surely it is a fact well stated at the introduction of subsidies that that was what they were for and indeed compared to most of world that is reasonably affluent it is a fact that our food is cheap and is obviously so having seen how well you look.
    Mark I feel for sure this assumtion that doing away with subsidies would mean the weak going and better farmers flourish is not the way to go as what would happen first is that almost all small farmers would get pushed out with farms getting bigger and bigger which I think neither of us would be in favour of.If subsidies went farmers income from food would have to increase to have the same level of standard of living,that is a fact and you and I both know even if you keep quiet about it that the average farmer if we ignore those that have inherited large estates are on a very moderate level of income.
    Think I have given a reasonable defence of my saying and so will continue unless you disprove my thoughts or of course you are under no compulsion from me to print.We both know you get pride out of printing most things.See a related thing in paper about Bitterns but will get a explanation I hope on that blog as I found it very confusing.

  12. SFP does three things:

    1. Encourages big farm business and penalises the smaller / extensive farmer contrary to your point above.
    2. Wastes an awful lot of tax payers money in an outdated policy
    3. Restricts world trade for farmers not least in the UK.

    SFP doesn’t:
    Keep food cheap – otherwise we wouldn’t see increased prices and volatility.

    Important to import food and keep trade going across borders to spread risk of crop failure / disease etc. We aren’t China!

    Do you believe the 1% if we raised it to 2% would go to the hungry people of the world ? – making arguments on this basis is a morality error because we know exactly where that food goes! Certainly aren’t going to sell them it cheaper – we should assist in developing a suistanable agricultural resource within their countries.

    SFP along with ELS and HLS is public money and in these financial times it is correct to ask for more from public investment. I’m asking for more than the very basic requirements which are mostly law anyway that are currently made of SFP recipents.

    People on the street do care about wildlife, I think you do them a disservice saying otherwise, c.9 million people watch springwatch etc and lots of people enjoy country walks. People I talk to suddenly get very nervous when they hear about the wholsale loss of Skylarks etc.

    Food suddenly gets a lot more expensive if for instance you have to pollinate crops artificially or provide increased chemical pest control because you no longer have any insect eating birds.

    The price I pay for food should reflect the price of production, certainly in the arable sector invariably it does – there is more to do here and there could be more control of buying tactics of large retailers but SFP doesn’t and cannot resolve that issue – as you must know it currently does completely the opposite.

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