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.