NFU failed to get it up!


The Harvesters by Brueghel
The Harvesters by Brueghel

I don’t quite know how I missed this much earlier in the year but it’s never too late to point out the failures of the NFU (and their friends the CLA) in this, red tractor logo week (for more on red tractors come back tomorrow).

In return for not having any regulatory requirements imposed on them when set-aside disappeared, English farmers promised to deliver a doubling of in-field Entry Level Scheme options between 2009 and 2012. This would mean increasing these options from 40,000ha to 80,000ha.  This was given the inspiring name of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.

It was a deal.

It looked like a good deal all round provided it was delivered.  It would be a good deal for wildlife because the coverage of options such as skylark plots (tiny bare patches within cereal fields) would increase.  The value of these options for wildlife is beyond dispute – they have contributed to the increase in farmland bird numbers on the RSPB’s Hope Farm.

It would be a good deal for farmers because instead of having an extra environmental regulation they could simply sign up to be paid, by the taxpayer, for doing good for wildlife on their farms.  It was a carrot instead of a stick.  And with the loss of set-aside, extra areas of land were available for money-making, so putting a bit back for wildlife was a reasonable thing to do (particularly because a farmer would get paid to do it).

It was a deal.  If all delivered then it would be a reasonable deal.  It was a deal struck by a Labour government but it was a Big Society type of approach – it was a test of  whether we could rely on the good will of individuals to deliver for the environment instead of having to ‘make’ farmers do a little better for wildlife.

Farming failed to deliver.  English farmers couldn’t even get it up (!) to 60,000 ha.

The taxpayer and our wildlife were short-changed again.

This is what the farmer and Agriculture Minister, Jim Paice, said in February 2011:

The Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) is just over one year old but has done much to raise farmers’ awareness of the environmental benefits that their land can deliver. I am grateful for the work that partners have been doing to make the CFE stronger but there is still some way to go.

Farmers cannot afford to relax. The Government is putting food production back up the agenda, but we have made it clear that this must be done alongside protecting and enhancing the environment and farmers must show they can do both. We want the campaign to be a success and don’t believe that we should regulate and impose more red tape if the farming community can achieve the same results through its own actions.

The CFE is the farming industry’s chance to demonstrate that this voluntary approach can work better than regulation and that they are best placed to decide on, and tackle, their local environmental priorities, without intervention. But if the farming community cannot step up and achieve these results voluntarily the Government will have to consider a compulsory approach to deliver these same benefits.

I will be looking carefully at the CFE’s progress during 2011 and I hope to hear more about the actions farmers are taking to protect our wildlife and justify the trust that we are placing in them.

I can’t see any reason why I shouldn’t say ‘I told you so’ because I did (and I wasn’t alone) – see this blog of September 2011  and this one of October 2011, and this one of April 2012.  See also this report in the Farmers Weekly of 2011, Farmers Guardian 2011, and this report in Farmers Weekly of May 2010. See this letter in the Guardian in 2009 signed by a whole range of wildlife groups.

In fact, let’s go back to July 2009 and the RSPB blog I wrote on the very day that the government decision on a voluntary approach was announced where I wrote ‘the ball is in Peter Kendall’s (the NFU President’s) court to deliver his promises to raise the enthusiasm of the farming community for saving farmland birds.  And if Peter can’t deliver, then the prospect of regulation remains.’ and also ‘Defra has put a huge amount of trust in the NFU’s ability to persuade farmers to give more back to wildlife and that burden may weigh heavily on Peter Kendall’s shoulders.  Every farmer I’ve met for weeks has said that they support the voluntary approach and when asked why they grin and say ‘because we won’t have to do anything different’.’.

The NFU made us a promise and they broke it.

The offer of a Guest Blog is open to the NFU – would Peter Kendall like to say ‘sorry!’?



12 Replies to “NFU failed to get it up!”

  1. It might be worth adding that this has all happened (or not !) in a period when arable farming has been doing well, with higher prices. However, look back over the years and when prices are low farmers exhort each other to intensify to break even and when they are high to intensify to make even more profit. Which doesn’t, and hasn’t, left a lot of room for easing back on the throttle. In fact, the figures are rather better than i’d expected – I hadn’t expected them to manage half way and it does emphasise the point there are lots of good guys out there – but in an era where greed is deemed to be unlimited and NFU and co float food supply scares at the drop of a CAP application form, is it surprising that farmers trying to do the right thing for society and the countryside must often feel they are swimming against the tide ?

    And, on the subject of tide I don’t think it is red tape that is the answer – we need to step right back and pay the money for what society as a whole needs, not the NFU’s out of control single-minded food production religion – in particular, paying for some land to be managed less intensively for water quality and quantity (both drought & flood). As Lord Kreb’s climate change committee has pointed out, water supply poses one of the biggest challenges to future food production.

  2. Great blog and great comment, thanks both. Though a dispiriting read coming right after seeing another blog, this one by LEAF’s chairman (an organisation I usually have a fair amount of time for and feel pleased if I see their logo on food in the supermarket)

    Despite LEAF style integrated farming being one of the potential solutions, he seems dangerously close to being one of those who deny there has ever been a problem!

    Edited highlights as an example:

    “True, the same weary suspects still trot out their mantras about intensive farming ruining the environment, hedgerows ripped out and farmland bird populations reaching dangerous levels……..The barren wastes and the ‘silent spring’ don’t seem to exist as the London based left-wing intelligentsia would have us believe.”

    Who needs a Campaign for the Farmed Environment when it’s already in tip-top shape, eh?!

    1. You missed a bit: “LEAF has played a major part in this, with its role in improving communications and engaging local communities. Over a million people have visited farms during Open Farm Sunday since it started seven years ago. Others visit LEAF Demonstration Farms throughout the year.”

      I too have a lot of time for LEAF – it promotes a comprehensive farmed environment agenda without being a whingebox and does a lot to enlighten the public’s perception of how its food is produced. It’s not unreasonable for its Chairblokeperson to speak in positive terms.

      I would rather that approach than “It doesn’t matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true.”- Paul Watson, Co-Founder of Greenpeace

      1. “I would rather that approach than “It doesn’t matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true.”- Paul Watson, Co-Founder of Greenpeace”

        Agreed – though it cuts both ways and I think the dire situation of farmland wildlife is much more than a fiction peddled by a London-based left-wing intelligentsia. A positive outlook should not become denial of a real problem or we are in Paul Watson territory, albeit on the other side of the fence.

        To be fair to Greenpeace they have disowned Paul Watson (and I believe they also deny that he was a co-founder of the organisation).

        1. JW – thanks for the heads-up. I have fallen into the pit-trap of quoting quotes!
          Nevertheless: “Unless we announce disasters no one will listen.”; “We have to offer up scary scenarios… each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective [dishonest] and being honest [ineffective].”; “I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of .. how dangerous it is.”; “Only sensational exaggeration makes the kind of story that will get politicians’ — and readers’ — attention.”; “The only way to get our society to truly change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe.” Quotes from the Prophets of Doom handbook, pub IPCC, all good charity shops.

          1. I agree that deliberately overstating the scale of a problem is reprehensible and in the long term it is also liable to be counter- productive as people will distrust anything you say once you have been caught out.
            It happens on both sides (for a non environmental example, the efforts of the tobacco industry to discredit evidence of a link between smoking and lung cancer have been well documented).
            Of course this does not mean that anyone who is suggesting that wildlife or the environment in general are under serious threat is guilty of lying or scare-mongering. There are real and present dangers and the dearth of turtle doves (for example) in our countryside is not something that has just been made up.
            It is good to highlight successes where they occur as these cases can be emulated elsewhere and more generally encourage the sense that the situation is not necessarily hopeless and that it is worth trying to do something. Just as with the dangers of overstating the problem however, it is not helpful if highlighting successes tips over into suggesting the problems are solved and we can all carry on merrily as before.

  3. And even the 80,000 ha target would be less than 1 per cent of England’s 9,000,000 ha in agricultural use!

  4. I noticed that the Gov’t yesterday announced sentences of up to 10 years for those take tax payers money under false pretences. Do you think they had some NFU supporting farmers in mind? Benefits cheats come in many guises.

  5. Thanks for posting that photograph of The Harvesters. Having sown a patch of winter wheat on my allotment a year ago which I just harvested by hand and am currently threshing in a pillow slip against a brick wall I can really relate to just how much work it is to grow our daily bread.

    I suspect more people will be learning that as oil based agriculture loses its fuel over the coming decades.

    It will be interesting to see how adaptable the nfu becomes in those circumstances. Supplying global markets and exports will not be on their agenda then and shouldn’t be now.

  6. I would like to challenge Rod Leslie’s assertion that “red tape” is not the answer. I don’t use the phrase red tape as is pejorative – good administration is in the public interest. More importantly the term confounds two issues i) administration and ii) legislation. Of course pointless form filing is in no one’s interest. However the experience of the Environment Agency in their successful campaign to reduce farm pollution incidents was that a mix of carrot in the form of advice and grants, and stick in the form of prosecution of offenders was successful. Agri-environment funds provide the carrot to protect farmland wildlife but there is no stick. In practice making enforceable, proportionate law is not simple but those who lobby government seem to have forgotten how successful it has sometimes been in protecting wildlife. Albeit from a US perspective there is a pertinent analysis of when and where legal instruments fail or succeed in protecting the environment in Ruhl J.B. et al. 2007 The Law and Policy of Ecosystem Services. Island Press, Washington. If we need more regulation to protect the country’s financial stability is there an evidenced case this is not true for the environment? Or is it just fashionable to ignore the track record of effective legislation?

Comments are closed.