Jim Paice doesn’t make stewardship pledge to taxpayers

The Defra Agriculture Minister James Paice told his fellow farmers that he wanted them to be able to opt out of their current agri-environment agreements if CAP reform changed the rules.  This seems fair enough to me.  I can’t quickly find his words on the Defra website but the Farmers Weekly report them here.  Mr Paice’s comments were welcomed by  both the NFU (here) and the CLA (here).

The NFU claims that English farmers are ‘ahead of the game’ on environmental management.  This is the new version of the ‘there is no biodiversity crisis’ argument and I’d like to know what is the evidence that English farming is ahead of the game.  We do know that English farmland is ahead of most of Europe in the rate of decline of farmland birds but that can’t be what the NFU means, can it?

The CLA say that we can be incredibly proud of our agri-environment schemes which suggests that they too are simply ignoring the continuing decline of farmland birds on land in and out of the Entry Level Scheme.

Both the NFU and the CLA seem to be of the view that all is OK here in England and those nasty foreigners might be ganging up on us when they talk about ‘our’ farmers being ‘disadvantaged’.  This is just pandering to, and indeed fuelling, the current mood of anti-European feeling.

I agree that when the rules or circumstances change then it is fair for farmers to be able to stop the agreements they are in.  In return I would like Defra to take the new evidence that farmland birds are at their lowest level since 1970 to revise those same agri-environment schemes so that they deliver some decent returns to the taxpayer.  Why not change the rules at any time in the agreement period if things have changed?  After all, the price of wheat is high so that has changed, and the number of farmland birds have changed too, and the country is in economic hard times and yet farming payments roll on as though the world were unchanged.

But the CLA and NFU are stirring up concern about the CAP greening proposals unnecessarily in my reading of things.  It is not a proposal to remove 7% of land from production as Farmers Weekly suggests but a proposal to have 7% of land in ecological friendly management.  The difference is that currently unproductive land would count towards the 7% figure, as I understand it, and as set out by the EU itself, this 7% would include any existing hedges, ponds, patches of trees etc and I cannot believe that it wouldn’t also include land already in agri-environment schemes.  And that’s how it should be – no-one, not even I, would suggest that a farmer in an existing agri-environment scheme should be made to do even more as though his (or her) current environmental contribution didn’t count at all – it wouldn’t make sense, and I don’t think that is what was intended.

So, Mr Paice, how about talking to the people who provide the money for the CAP and telling the taxpayer what he and she will get for their money in future?  What is your stewardship pledge to the taxpayer?

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7 Replies to “Jim Paice doesn’t make stewardship pledge to taxpayers”

  1. Why not give your readers a real Christmas present thus making it a happier New Year by articulating precisely what an NFU or CLA member should do to have a beneficial impact on farmland birds in 2012.
    Do not just say Grange Farm precise instructions - and please comment on the discussion at http://www.rase.org.uk/events/conferences/index.asp
    Would you agree with the Conference Chairman's summary
    "It’s been a fascinating discussion and I have come away with a feeling of optimism. The evidence is not encouraging - entry level environmental schemes are failing to improve farmland bird populations. But there are examples of best practice which have clear objectives and an eye for detail and careful management. The main success factors are habitat, food supply and predation. We have made a lamentable attempt till now to understand the detailed requirements of specialist birds. Also we need to think more on a landscape scale with farmers working together to the same ends. We have an excellent science base now Defra needs to persuade the Treasury with effective schemes which give value for money. “We know how to do it.”

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  2. I love farm politics - measure success by % of area in ELS / HLS, ammount of monmey spent on schemes. Absolute nonsense.

    Surely success should be based on delivery against real objectives? Numbers of things, something that can be measured in, wild birds are surely just one target of many.

    I get money from the taxpayer and I can see that wildlife is returning because of this support. But just because I get the money or I am have a HLS agreement does not mean I am making any actual difference.

    Surely the challenge is how do we protect birds whilst being as productive and ssutainable as possible. This is a wonderful challenge and one all farmers are going to have to face.

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  3. Agree with all you say Mark but I do think we should be proud of our agri-environment schemes as lots of farmers are trying really hard,there is really no doubt we are not doing enough as for sure farmland birds are declining.Surely it just means it is a work in progress and we have to get more farmers into schemes and as you keep telling us get the schemes changed for the better things.Farmers in general are doing what the schemes demand(probably the minimum amount in most cases).This must mean we pay more for the important things.
    One thing always strikes me is that there are lots of farmers still around who production was the end result and a weed was not wanted and they were/are as enthusiastic about production and farming well as they see/saw it as you are about conservation.This attitude to improve wildlife which has become fashionable will take time to get comfortable with.Think this is difficult for public to understand but is not any different to gardeners proud of producing good crops from their garden or allotment.

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    1. Dennis - and I agree with what you say too. I would jus say that it has been work in progress for quite a long time now - and it's not working well enough. I mostly blame successive governments (but the NFU certainly don't help).

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  4. What I think comes out of Dennis' comments, which I feel are right, is the possibility there could be a two track approach - there've been farmers who want to go 'world farming', competing in the global market by high intensity/low costs/high production for years and that seems to be where NFU are coming from. Maybe they should be allowed to - but with a big caveat - if you want to go that way it's without Single Farm Payment - that is what real competition means. Say maybe 1/3rd went down that route, probably the farms that have least wildlife left as they're already the most productive, just what could 1/3rd of Single Farm Payment do for farmers who can't or don't want to go down that route - we could really help the people who can never compete in an open market, especially upland farmers, the very people for whom the CAP's income support was really designed, and farmers who are already helpingn the environment and want to do more - as Birdseye rightly points out we know it works - and its a pleasure to visit farms where farmers are really committed to their environment - the benefits of often quite modest changes can be huge and personally I am very, very happy to see my taxes going to support those farmers.

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