32 Replies to “British farming is failing”

  1. I’m no farmer, or at very best I play at it by managing my small fruit orchard, but I sense that it’s hard enough to break even let alone make profit in today’s market. It’s a strange dilemma, but on one hand we’re crying out for cheap food, mainly imported from the emerging third world and on the other we expect our farmers to price match and give us all the whistles and bells that are tied into environmental awareness.

    Just maybe, if we’re so dead set on a healthy countryside, we ought to dig deep in our pockets and pay the price for once.

    1. Connormead – thanks for the comment. I think your comment shows the problem. Four quick points from me:

      1. There are farmers and farmers – but it certainly isn’t the case that all our farmers are struggling to make any sort of a living and therefore we should cut them a bit of slack.
      2. We are already paying for farming through £1,500,000,000 subsidies and £500,0000,000 environmental payments. I’d like value for my investment please.
      3. It isn’t that difficult to do better – many farmers are (eg LEAF farmers) and both GWCT and RSPB have shown that you can get an awful lot more wildlife without it costing much if anything.
      4. If British farmers aren’t doing anything special, except sticking to the law, then there is certainly no reason to buy red tractor logo produce – it seems to me to be a worthless label.

  2. This is such an important issue. I do tend to agree with Connormead, I do however want to live and work in a countryside with as much wildlife potential as possible.

    One of the big issues in my opinion is that DEFRA is an organisation that serves wildlife, farmers and the public very badly. Farmers (and like Connormead I am not) are exasperated by the inconsistency and indeed general ignorance that comes from all levels of DEFRA. Farming is mired in re tape, it is very difficult to do anything let alone the right thing.

    British farmers are generally working to a higher standard of animal welfare, water protection etc than other European farmers, this is why we pay them grants I believe. They are competing with other farmers that don’t have to worry about many of the regulations that UK farmers abide by.

    The environmental grants that farmers claim are applied badly. The general bureaucracy means that farmers are just having to jump through the wrong hoops. Grants need to show public benefit through the life of the scheme and all the knock on effects they cause.

    I do think the Red Tractor is better to choose in Tesco than unaccredited imported food. British farmers should be supported or there is a very real risk that food we buy is coming from far less sustainable agriculture. Surely there is room for organisations like the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts etc to get behind LEAF or similar and lobby their members to buy food accredited to ‘their’ standard.

    1. Mark – thank you.I think that LEAF has come a long way. Some years ago there was not much behind LEAF other than a lot of farmer goodwill. Now it has a lot more environmental oomph behind it. LEAFmarque is certainly worth supporting.

      1. Dear Mark and Mark

        On behalf of LEAF, thank you for your support for us and for the LEAF Marque – it is much appreciated.

  3. This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
    This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
    This other Eden, demi-paradise,
    This fortress built by Nature for herself
    Against infection and the hand of war,
    This happy breed of men, this little world,
    This precious stone set in the silver sea,
    Which serves it in the office of a wall
    Or as a moat defensive to a house,
    Against the envy of less happier lands, —
    This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

  4. The Red tractor is like any certification scheme where the standards are decided solely by the industry – not worth the plastic its printed on. It contrasts sharply with the Forestry Stewardship Council where environment, growers and industry all get a say – and inspections are both peer reviewed and open to public scrutiny and comment – try looking up your favourite forest on the web and you can see what not well, what not so well.

  5. If one had time it would be interesting to go through the 14 page check list that you linked to and see how many of the items on the list are legal requirments anyway. I suspect (having only had a quick look) many / most of them are.
    If schemes like Red Tractor are to mean anything their requirements should be well above the legal requirements that are already in place.

  6. I think it would be more relevant if you stood outside a supermarket and asked the general public what they thought (if anything) what the red tractor logo stood for, if you stood in aisle in a supermarket long enough you might save yourself some time when you notice most people just grab the food/brand they’ve always brought reagrdless what logo is stamped on it.
    Perhaps the rspb instead of wasting money on adverts could purchase more farmland (seeming as so much is being sold for housing) and really getting serious about farming and then produce their own range of products stamped with the rspb logo or perhaps set up a co-operative of farmers that meet “their” standard and use their logo under liscense etc.

    1. Hi All

      Balancing the Paradox

      I am an English countryman – passionate about the British Countryside – passionate about “Mother Nature”, totally fascinated with biochemystery (as I call it), etc etc etc ; these passions are (in my view) best expressed in my utter love for (foxes and) fox-hunting. Likewise the badger! Etc!

      I ‘followed’ Mark from his RSPB role / blog to his current blog – and will never regard this as a waste of time and effort

      Mark (sensible Mark! fair Mark! – Hal?) provides an outlet for his views and (idealistic – why not?) beliefs and hopes re Nature, the environment, biodiversity, etc

      I, however, am really seriously pissed-off with the “confrontational – in yer face- we are Right aren’t we!?” attitude of most of Mark’s groupy-like subscribers and indeed Mark himself . Although interesting (and maybe even right) – you are (mostly) talking to yourselves – like-minded individuals – stirring the pot but doing and achieving very little!

      Is this true? Come on – you may be right!

      Moan as much as you like – agree with each other – why not? – but is it progress? Is it change for the better?

      I joined the Labour Party (always voted Tory and always will) but the local Labour Party hadn’t got the guts to accept it – so I was refused ‘final’ membership (with no refund of 30 pounds!)
      Debating ‘things’ with people who generally agree with you ain’t the way forward!

      I, for example, argue that you ‘birders’ should hunt your raptors – get on the moors with your pointers – English or German – bring down your quarry – feel closer to Nature!

      Birds? Them are for watching!

      Get it? No – I suppose you don’t – No chance – it’s Orwell’s Groupthink again!

      1. Trimbush – you really are an interesting fella!

        I agree that the comments on this blog tend to come from the like-minded but then, that’s hardly surprising. And that’s one reason (not the only one) why I, for one, value your very different contributions.

        However, this blog was read by over 12,000 people last month (I’ll publish the figures some time soon (the blog is already written but it’s a bit of a ‘filler’)) and I’m pretty sure they don’t all agree with me, or you, or any other single person. So as far as I am concerned, this blog has quite a wide, and growing, reach.

        Comments, passionate but polite please, from all viewpoints are very welcome here.

        1. Mark

          I decided to ‘run’ with you (and your blog(gers)) when you went ‘solo’ in the belief / hope that ‘progress / understanding’ (on either side)’ would follow – ‘churning’ ain’t progress!

          I currently have a project which will soon come to fruition – I have to admit it’s the first time I’ve said to myself “I must do this before I peg it – and if I don’t – I would have failed; Not me but everybody else!”

          What to do you want to achieve “Nature-wise” and how are you gonna do it?

          And how long before you decide that you’ve failed?

          I don’t need to know the answers – but I believe you do!


      2. “stirring the pot”
        As in – features of an assurance scheme to which some British farmers belong equates to “British Farming is Failing”

          1. Farming or agri-industry? One appears to work with the other seems to confront and destroy nature.

            Agri-industrialist leaders certainly appear to have their Ministerial advocates who prop up the state welfare handouts to agri-industrialists.

            Harvest 2013 on TV recently – where were the hedges amidst the monoculture cereal crops? Imported bees …. soil used to be treated as natural now it’s a resource, a commodity and an ever increasingly industrialised one sadly.

            Conversely, the larger NGOs appear to have abandoned their principles and been gagged from real conservation by their biodiversity building projects funded by and for greenwash.

            Ever an observant agnostic ….

      3. Trimbush, you’ve bought me out of retirement! You get right to the heart of it.

        In terms of raising “the environmental issue” right to the top of the political agenda independant bloggers, environmental NGOs and Green Political parties are pretty hopeless (as are those who produce worthy local level bird Atlases yet won’t lift a finger to fight for their subject matter).

        Most of us reading this blog understand the bio-sphere is the essential “closed system” underpinning all human activity and is therefore diminished at our peril, yet it’s wellbeing remains stubbonly at the bottom of the priority list in the collective conscious.

        Applying a touch of “Cartesian doubt” to the paradox you could be forgiven for believing the threats to the environment are overhyped, possibly to fuel the “utility” for so called environmental campaigners? If the environmental threats were real then the whole of mankind would surely be engaged in a fundemental rethink of our systems of governance. The fact that it isn’t is clearly evidence of either exteme stupidity or cynical mass manipulation of the unthinking masses for ulterior motives.

        The current pre-occupation with financial and manufactured capital at the expense of human, societal and natural capital is clearly the root cause of all our problems. Each and every day we see news stories depicting the injustice of viscious wars, economic hardship and ecological degradation. The centuries long story and yet in 2013 with the mother of all crises looming (we’re told by some we have 6 years to avoid the tipping points) mainstream politicians and business leaders vigourously utilise all of their resources in keeping the lid on the pressure cooker rather than address the root causes. How wierd?

        Will the NGOs and Green Parties emerge from their shells and explain this in the lead up to the next general election – I doubt it. Cynical me wonders if all of these groupings aren’t “all in it together”. If so, Trim, to whom do you and me turn?

        1. Hi Phil – very interesting !

          I’ve often thought about it – indeed at one stage I formally registered and ‘run’ the “Humanitas” political party – with Manifesto etc – that was more enjoyable than productive but it cleared the mind! I formed ‘The Rural Army’ to help fight New Labour’s assault on the British Countryside in 1997 – that was quite good. The Countryside Alliance generally does a good job – the NFU sometimes doesn’t ! The most impressive thing about the RSPB is its membership and its turnover. The Woodland Trust – don’t mention it – should be good but ain’t.
          I came to the conclusion that the better way was to use existing organisations and form an ‘umbrella’ organisation – but you get still get back to an internal debating society – perhaps the solution is to get the two (3, 4, 5 etc sides) to form individual groups and come together to draft an agenda (before its too late) and to see what happens at the ‘Working Parties’ “Social Media” would no doubt play its part.

          But the phrase ‘crop circles’ keeps coming into my mind !

          1. Hi Trimbush, well there is one grouping that knows how to work “Social Media” and that is the kids! They are the ones who will shape the future if only they can be persuaded to think about it and with the likes of CliMates and Brittany Trillford (of Rio +20 fame – Tick Tick Tick – I’m here to fight for my future, what are your here for?) raising awareness amongst their peers then maybe there is hope. They are in the arrivals lounge after all and we in the departures!!

  7. Dear Trimbush,

    Having worked in your world for most of my life I remain deeply concerned by the extraordinary ‘group think’ of too many rural lobbies – whether it is shooting, farming or whatever – the ability to only meet people of your own sort and reinforce your deeply held views till you convince yourselves you must be right. We’ll all only find out the truth when a head on confrontation takes place – and in my world it did when Jim Paice decided (no doubt with the support of his farming friends) that no one would mind if he sold all the Forestry Commission forests. We know what happened next – I’m amused by the apologists who still like to claim it was all down to ignorance, ownership doesn’t matter etc etc but the bottom line is that given a yes/no option the public spoke, and on a subject that never had the party political dimension of the fox hunting debate. And Jim Paice lost his job. He deserved it – it was an incredibly silly thing to do, sadly like so much of the current Government’s activity barely thought through at all. I don’t want to see the same sort of thing happen to farming and to shooting – but the group think brick walls these activities too frequently hide behind hold the seeds of further disasters in the relationship between rural people and our largely urban society.

  8. I think at least some of the problems in farming are the alternative uses we put our land to. We allow large industrial estates to be built on land that should be used for food production, why?, because we can claim grants for this from the EU? The local MP can then claim that jobs are being created in their area. What then, the businesses re-locate to the next new industrial site, because they receive favourable rates on the next new site. The “sheds” then stand empty on the “old” site. Bio-fuels are grown where food should be grown, taking more land out of food production. Then some bright spark says, we are loosing crop growing land so food production needs to be more intensive. We then have chemicals sprayed on our food and land to make crops more “intensive.” I wonder why governments treat the symptoms, but not the cause?

  9. Mark,

    Whilst I think the title for this blog is a bit OTT (which of course is why you used it!), I broadly agree with your views on the Red Tractor ‘assurance’ scheme. Given that overwhelming majority of the requirements are now conditions of Cross Compliance, particularly with the revisions to SMR 11 (Food & Feed Law) and SMR 9 (Plant Protection Products), the latter having been driven by the EU Sustainable Use of Pesticide Regulations. Clearly the Red Tractor Logo is now surplus to requirements, perhaps a simple Union Jack on British food packaging would suffice ? Er, now hang on a minute…

    But back to your mischievous choice of title and also the blog you wrote yesterday which was spot-on, with these issues in mind you must be very concerned that the bean counters at the Lodge, ‘appear’ to have decreed that the rspb should significantly cut back on its farm advice program ? Obviously, I cannot say for certain that this is fact, I am not privy to such information, however I have no reason to suspect that those people who have told me that this is the case, are in any way misinformed. They certainly have no axe to grind. Do you know if this is true ?

    Speaking as an rspb member, I can’t say I give a monkeys about the name of a magazine that nobody reads or the aesthetics of a new logo. These are not issues that concern me, however the state of our farmland biodiversity does, which is the main reason why I give the rspb £10 of my hard-earned every month. The rspb employs some very talented farmland advisers, these are people that can really help farmers to make a difference, but they can only do that if they are given the licence to get out there and get stuck-in. Given that nearly two years ago we lost dear old FWAG and now that Natural England increasingly seems to resemble a branch of NFU Inc, the last thing we need is for the rspb to take a step back.

    Perhaps someone from the rspb could set me straight on this ?

  10. To reinforce Mark’s view of the Red Tractor logo, I quote from yesterday’s Times “Tesco falsely claimed that pork chops from the Netherlands had come from a British farm…. The supermarket group, which apologised to customers this year after horsemeat was found in some of its beef products, said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ by the discovery.”
    Now were they disappointed to have been discovered selling EU pork as British, or that their meat buyer had dropped a mighty clanger!

    1. Have the rules changed? I thought that foreign meat could be called british if it was jointed here?

    2. Surely the moral of this is don’t buy meat from supermarkets. Some things are best sourced locally. Traceability, honesty and integrity sadly traits in scarce supply across a range of ‘professions’, occupations etc.

  11. Dear Mark,

    Very interesting thoughts on the Red Tractor logo. You might be interested to know that the RSPCA “Freedom Food” logo is held in similar contempt in the West Highlands where it is exploited ruthlessly by the salmon farming industry. The FF scheme makes the RSPCA a huge amount of money (they won’t say how much), while being almost identical to the salmon farming industry’s own Cod of Good Practice – which is well known for being hopelessly toothless and inadequate. Fish farms with diabolical pollution and lice records (which are only occasionally revealed through F.o.I requests, or through controversy) pay a fortune to the RSPCA to receive this dubious badge of honour.

    It has also opened up a can of worms with the SSPCA – who don’t like Southern charities making a killing out of bad companies in the north and then taking the loot home!
    I’m afraid it is a sad state of affairs, and I can no longer trust the RSPCA on husbandry as a result.

    It’s all rather dispiriting.

    p.s. first time I’ve commented – thanks for a thought-provoking and intelligent blog. Best wishes.

  12. Some great comments here that touch on so many of the key issues:

    The groupthink that results in farmers thinking they are the only people that understand the countryside when in reality what they understand is food production and its economics. Most lost the link between farming and nature two generations ago.

    The poverty of leadership from NFU, an organisation that buries its head in the sand over each and every environmental issue and opportunity.

    The way that the cheap food policy has led to efficiency in farming at the expense of natural capital, fuelled by globalisation and concentrations of power in food processing and retail.

    All this has led to agricultural systems that are incompatible with nature. So where farmers are forced, or volunteer to provide compensatory capital, be it by agri-environmental schemes or by regulation, many are either unwilling or do not have the knowledge or interest to deliver it to the highest standard. Above all, there is a general denial of the scale of nature’s problems, and the role intensification has played in it.

    Defra is indeed part of the problem. The last White Paper read like motherhood and apple pie, with no sense of how its objectives could be achieved – Nature Improvement Areas, to be funded by tuppence ha’penny. It is currently transfixed by something called sustainable intensification, which the industry will ensure will be lots of the latter and not much of the former. The environmental wing of Defra obsesses over Biodiversity Action Plans and the like without ever engaging properly with the agricultural wing to plan effective measures, and hovering over everything is the spectre of the pattern of land ownership that prevents solutions being put in place at the scale at which they might work.

    Accreditation marks can play a part but to me the red tractor has always been about welfare standards first and foremost.

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