And so we say farewell…

File:Nfu.gif…to Peter Kendall, the President of the National Farmers’ Union, who has decided not to seek re-election next February.

Farmers Weekly quotes Kendall as saying he isn’t looking for a career in politics – so I expect that’s where he’s heading.

Peter Kendall has been a very popular NFU leader amongst farmers – he has been re-elected three times and the voting system (which is amazingly progressive) doesn’t make that easy for the incumbent.  He has undoubtedly been a very able advocate and lobbyist.  Thanks to Peter, farmers have had a much better deal than they deserve and the taxpayer and the environment have both lost out.

As the Farmers Weekly puts it ‘Notable successes include helping to stave off a mandatory set-aside replacement that would have forced farmers to take land out of production at a time of rising demand for food. Instead, Mr Kendall helped persuade an initially sceptical Labour government that farmers could be trusted to implement voluntary environmental measures on their land.‘. That is what happened – but farming did not deliver on Kendall’s promises so we should remember that farmers are not to be trusted.  That will be part of Kendall’s legacy.

Kendall put farmers on the anti-environmental side of almost every argument: set-aside, neonicotinoids, badgers and bovine TB and biofuels.

Peter Kendall will be with us as the President of the NFU until February and I bet he will be with us for a long time after that too. I can’t imagine that he is going to go back to his combine after the heady days of badgering ministers and badgering badgers.  He is, and I mean it, too talented and experienced a person for the farming industry to discard.

Maybe he’ll write a blog?  He’ll be very welcome to pen a Guest Blog here.

My article in the current issue of Birdwatch teases apart, and teases, some of Kendall’s and the NFU’s more outrageously anti-environmental statements.  I dare say he will be saying outrageous and ridiculous things for the months and years to come.  Mark my words, we haven’t seen the last of Peter Kendall.

And yesterday, the new official figures for the Farmland Bird Index (FBI) were issued bringing the sad story of decline up to date.  In a generation we have lost half the farmland birds from our countryside.  And in recent times, the smoothed UK FBI fell 8% (statistically significantly) in the years between 2006 (the year when Peter Kendall became President of the NFU)  and 2011 – thanks a lot Peter!







51 Replies to “And so we say farewell…”

  1. Statements like ‘farmers are not to be trusted’ really do make me want to give up sometimes. I have been keen on wildlife from a young age, but when we have ever increasing rents to pay, stewardship schemes have to stack up against crop margins if we are to implement them. We have recently renewed our ELS/HLS agreement, but we had to think long and hard about it, especially with the unknown quantity of CAP reform looming. You can understand why some have not renewed or taken up schemes and stuck to what they know, growing crops.

    As for the continued decline in farmland birds, I just don’t know. We had more Lapwing 10 years ago before we went into stewardship, but I put that down to the sugar beet we grew back then which provided bare ground for nesting in spring. We included fallow in our original CSS to try and retain them, and we still have them, albeit only two or three pairs. Skylarks are doing very well here but always have done, mainly due to the spring cropping we have. Not all farms are suited to this though due to their soil type. Winter cereals give the best margins on heavy clay farms so you can’t blame those farmers for avoiding over wintered stubbles. The RSPB has had success growing spring beans but there isn’t a big enough market for beans for every farmer to grow them.

    One thing for sure is we can’t go back to the 60’s or 70’s. if I farmed like that now I wouldn’t stand a chance of passing our Assured Crops inspections. We inadvertently created a veritable paradise for some birds back then, and now farming gets the blame for becoming more efficient and leaving less behind. Replace farmers with people from any other profession and they will farm in the same way as they need to balance the books. As a wildlife friendly farmer I am finding new ways all the time to farm for wildlife without affecting the profitability of the farm, but if I gave up all that knowledge would be lost.

    1. Andy – you have been badly let down by the NFU and other farmers. Farming promised to deliver in a voluntary scheme and then didn’t.

    2. Andy, don’t give up – you represent the reasonable, balanced approach that is required to be a part of the rebooting of the conservation approach in Martin Harper’s blog. Dr Avery seems to be lashing out in all directions at the moment, just at a time when we need him to succeed as a champion of nature. Looking around here there are quite a few comments expressing dismay at his approach. If he is not capable of change himself, then how can he hope to induce change in others?

    3. Andy – your farm sounds good. Good luck with it. I’m very happy for some of my taxes to be going to pay for it (or at least contribute towards it).

      The statement about farmers not to be trusted, as you can see from the context, is taking up the Farmers Weekly point that Peter Kendall’s major achievement was persuading the Labour government to trust farmers to deliver through a Big Society approach – but then the FW didn’t point out that that approach had failed to meet its most important target! We ‘trusted’ the NFU and farming and farmers to deliver and they didn’t. You clearly are (or at least, I trust you when you say you are!), but as a whole farming (and therefore farmers) fell woefully short. We should all remember this the next time a President of the NFU asks for our trust.

      Nobody is suggesting going back to the 60s or 70s.

      I didn’t blame any farmer for avoiding winter stubbles. Skylark patches were developed and tested specifically to provide a bird-friendly solution for land where it would be economic madness to revert to spring cereals. And funding for them is available through ELS. And the take-up even after the CFE is very very low. Have you seen the NFU promoting, really promoting, these solutions?

      At the moment, I’d be quite inclined to close ELS and put all that money into HLS so that farmers like yourself could do even more.

      1. “At the moment, I’d be quite inclined to close ELS and put all that money into HLS so that farmers like yourself could do even more”

        ELS closed for new applications on the 30th September. Applications that were submitted before that date are currently be being processed by NE, with December 1st being the last possible agreement start date. ELS will be closed next year, although a transitional HLS scheme will be operation in 2014. Both schemes will be replaced by a New Environmental Land Management Scheme (NELMS) at some point in 2015.

        Finger on the pulse eh Mark ? 🙂

        1. Ernest – yes, and those pending applications which are approved will be with us for five years delivering very little. And I’d be inclined to close existing ELS agreements if I could (which we can’t, I know). We are slow to introduce change in farming compared with other areas of public life.

          1. Mark – how do you know that these new agreements will not deliver value to taxpayer?

            Those farms that have entered into ELS agreements since Jan 2013 are post-MESME. One of the complaints that was made about ELS in its original form was that it was all too easy for farmers to claim their ELS points by taking up boundary management options. To give Natural England some credit, they have addressed this by reducing the points available for basic hedgerow options by over 25%. They have also reduced the points available for the compulsory FER option by 66%. This change alone meant a farmer with 100 ha of land, has to find an additional 200 points (in terms of options this would equate to 40 skylark plots or 0.44 ha of wild bird seed / nectar mix or 1.67 ha of overwintered stubble).

            Another point to bear in mind. is that ELS was paid at a rate of £30/ha in 2005, the same rate that is paid in 2013. In real terms this equates to a 19% reduction in payment (assuming an annual inflation of 2.1%), not that I have ever heard a single farmer mention this last point.

            Some excellent new options have been introduced this year, the best of which is an option for supplementary feeding farmland birds. I know four farmers who signed up to this option this autumn. At times this winter whilst many of us may be sat in warm offices, posting comments on blogs and no doubt sat within an arms length of a cup of coffee, these chaps will be carting large quantities of expensive seed to distant corners of the farm in order to try and make sure their tree sparrows survive the lean months of winter and the spring gap-period.

            Also it is worth pointing out that the aims of ELS do not solely relate to farmland birds. Many of the options that farmers choose to take up can help to reduce diffuse pollution, protect archaeological features or enhance landscape. For example a 12m grass margin sown with tussock forming grasses next to watercourse to infiltrate run-off or protecting medieval ridge and furrow from cultivation. What value to these options offer the tax-payer ? Quite a bit I’d say.

            I’m not arguing that ELS is perfect, far from it, but I do not think it is as ineffective as perhaps you may think. Many all-grass dairy and beef enterprises would like to do more, but in all honesty apart from maximising the habitat value of their boundaries, establishing some areas of rough tussocky grass and minimising diffuse pollution, what more can they do ?

            I don’t think statements such as ‘farmers are not to be trusted’ are helpful.

          2. Ernest – good comment, thank you. I’ll try to be more optimistic.

            But, as is clear from the blog above, this is the full quote: As the Farmers Weekly puts it ‘Notable successes include helping to stave off a mandatory set-aside replacement that would have forced farmers to take land out of production at a time of rising demand for food. Instead, Mr Kendall helped persuade an initially sceptical Labour government that farmers could be trusted to implement voluntary environmental measures on their land.‘. That is what happened – but farming did not deliver on Kendall’s promises so we should remember that farmers are not to be trusted. That will be part of Kendall’s legacy.

  2. Nice bit of whinging Mark. It seems to me that whenever there’s ‘trouble’ a brewing the poor British farmer gets it in the neck. The have some of the best food and animal welfare standards in the world and yet, those who know very little about the farmers lot, continue to whinge. If it’s not the environment it’s about stewardship payments, or subsides, or excessive profit. Maybe at this harvest time we should all be supporting our great British farmers and buying from the farm gate, instead of constantly berating them whilst making the choice to buy cheap third world imported food from the mega stores. Who knows maybe farmers might just support us in return, just a thought!

    1. Shaun, you seem to believe that farmers should be beyond criticism but why? There is undoubtedly a problem with farmland birds being on a disastrous downward slide and there seems to be little doubt that a large part of this slide is due to large scale changes in the way farmland is managed. Some individual farmers do a lot to encourage wildlife to co-exist with their crops and livestock (and all credit to them), others do nothing and overall the industry is not doing enough to stop the slide. If the tax payer is pumping large amounts of subsidy into farming it is perfectly reasonable to ask that we get more back from it in terms of more effective conservation measures incorporated into farming practices.
      Other industries are also important to the nation (and also compete with cheap third world imports) but the fact that they create jobs, support the balance of trade, etc, etc does not mean that we should or do tolerate them causing pollution or other environmental harm. There is no reason why farming should be any different and above criticism.
      The decline of farmland birds is a major concern and if paintings were disappearing from the nations galleries at the same rate it would be considered a scandal. In a blog entitled “Fighting for Birds” it would be odd indeed if this was considered to be an off-limits topic for fear of offending farmers.

    2. Shaun – oh, thank you very much! I always like it when people whinge about me whingeing – it seems so deliciously self-contradictory of them.

      I do buy quite a lot from the farm gate, and from farmers’ markets too. Were you suggesting that you know where I shop because I doubt it…

      At this time of harvest maybe farmers should be thanking every taxpayer in the country for their £3.3bn contribution to UK farming before we even enter the supermarket or pass the farm gate. If you have read previous blogs then I support that massive investment in farming – I’d just like a better return on my investment please.

      1. Probably Waitorse unless that was a poor joke you made in one of your blogs Mark.
        Farmers do get the recognition they desreve but the simple truth is that there are bad farmers out there, not many, but a few. Anyone want to visit a farm in Cambridgeshire that thanks to all the medical waste the farmer dumped will take 4 years to clean up, who in the first instance (apart from the EA) will pick up the tab, the NFU or general public?
        I found it odd that at the height of the horsemeat/lasagne scandal the NFU went full force to persuade everyone to buy British beef, “Trust the Red Tractor” logo, yet when it came to badgers and btb the reason a cull was needed was to protect beef exports, seemed slightly hypocritical but as for buying from the farmers gate am I wrong in thinking that crops enter a “worldwide” market etc so buying certain food types from the gate wouldn’t be possible, but at the same time when you see the price on the world stage of certain cereal crop, it’s hard to plead poverty for the BIGGER farms, whilst the smaller holdings do struggle, what did the NFU do for the small farms/farmer, judging from Andy’s comment at the top, not a lot.

        1. “buying from the farmers gate”

          “The oilseed rape looks good today I’ll have a pound and a half. Thanks.”

  3. Not going to be critical about your whinge Mark you are careful to have facts usually to back up what you say and I can see in most of your whinge some valid points.Think Andy put it in perspective as farming profitably is never easy unless like Hope Farm it comes as a freebie,come to think of it it is surprising rspb did not want GOFGAF.Get one free get another free,even better than Tesco BOGOF.
    What I do hate is this bit always about farmland birds as if the rest of country except farmers are so brilliant,oh no they are not lots of other birds are in decline nothing to do with farmers and that part of the population also pollute the countryside with vehicles which must kill serious numbers of insects those farmland birds need.
    I would be very surprised if we hear any criticism of that type before somewhere or other another rant from someone about farmers and farmland birds.

    1. Dennis – thank you. And, by the way, that is your 601st comment here – I didn’t spot your 600th! Thank you for all of them.

    2. Dennis, a small point of order but an important one. Surely conservation can never be about using an argument such as ‘look over there’, surely it should be about putting one’s own house in order first. A few decades ago the tabloid newspapers were united in condemning bullfighting and throwing donkey’s off towers in Spain. Putting aside the broader morality of this subject, the Spanish merely pointed out that foxes were chased and ripped apart in Britain. OK, that is a welfare issue and perhaps not the same as conservation. Well sadly, it is far from the end of the story because Maltese and to a lesser extent, Cypriot hunters have all used bird declines in the UK to counter the campaign against hunting.

  4. Thank you Mark,that is nice of you to say that but we really should be grateful for the trouble you take with all the large number of blogs.Your knowledge on a wide range of issues is impressive and guess what you do not have at your fingertips has to be researched,I find it all impressive.
    Even worth several dislike buttons being pressed fpr buttering you up.Who cares.

    1. Dennis – I will just press ‘like’ myself on your comment (although i don’t use the buttons much as i ‘like’ all comments really).

  5. “farming did not deliver on Kendall’s promises so we should remember that farmers are not to be trusted.”

    Kendall made the promises. Gullible politicians believed him. The farmers didn’t make any promises. We should not put any trust in gullible politicians.

  6. Back to the NFU, I generally agree with your comments about PK. I suppose he was quite popular among the minority of farmers that are NFU members. Better or worse then his predecessor ? Worse I’d say, I had the pleasure of meeting Sir Ben on a couple of occasions and he always struck me as being fairly sound, certainly his own man and not in hock to big agri-business and the pesticides industry.

    Who is the favourite to become next NFU chairman ? Meurig Raymond ?. I don’t know much about him, will he be any better or worse for the environment ?

    One things for sure, lets just be thankful the ecologically illiterate Essex Peasant is unlikely to be in the running!

    1. Ernest – you seem to have forgotten Tim Bennett, whom PK ousted – although it was a thoroughly democratic ‘oust’ (finger on the pulse eh?). Tim Bennett was a thoroughly nice chap.

      Sir Ben – yes, I like Sir B too. Although was it not he who said that modulation was robbing Peter to pay Paul – forgetting that the money involved was neither Peter’s nor Paul’s to start with – it was yours and mine (a common blindspot for farmers’ leaders and some farmers too)?

      Who was it before Sir B – I honestly can’t remember off-hand and haven’t bothered to google it yet.

      Who next – probably not an environmentalist? Meurig is no Peter Kendall.

  7. Sometimes Filbert says in a few words more than many a essay would say.
    No blame can be attached to farmers,like almost everyone they will take what is on offer for the least trouble.How could Kendall ever speak for farmers.
    The whole problem is in the schemes and if individual farmers point out silly parts of these schemes they are not even listened to.

  8. I very much doubt if most farmers care who is voted as leader,personally think the majority who are NFU members either join because they think they should so as to be loyal as they see it,they see it as a way of being represented if they fall foul of some rules etc or they belong for the NFU insurance.
    It is democratic in a way as in my time a local membership of 300 often got 10 members where a vote maybe taken so I suppose 6 out of 300 could be considered a majority.My experience of it was not a good one getting really bad advice on two issues and a raw deal with a insurance claim.

  9. Dennis comes across as a really nice man displaying admiral loyalty to Mark and his fellow contributors. However this blog entry is yet another example of how not to stand up for nature, issuing a statement that appears to be slagging the ultimate stewards of our precious countryside and then spending the rest of the blog desperately trying to defend the initial position. Filbert got it right with his comment about Peter Kendall making the promises, how does it help to alienate the guys and galls working so hard to provide food and look after our wildlife? Similarly with toffs and ministers of state? The best champions of nature utilise a positive approach, presenting a vision of how nature and the environment can be promoted to the centre of our thinking as a key component of the need to manage the complexites of modern day life, in doing so they educate, pursuade, include everybody and crucially debate reasonably.

    1. Politics is not my strong point but I’m sure PK is not the first person not to deliver on their promises. From our point of view we use the NFUmutual for insurance and health and safety audits etc.., and although not always the cheapest we find customer service to be very good. From the lobbying side of things I’ve never expected much from the NFU as they have to represent such a wide range of people from livestock to arable, large estates to small rented farms, so they have a job keeping everyone happy.

      Ernest, Mark, going back to your points on skylark plots earlier….yes I don’t know why more farmers didn’t take them up as they pay by far the best compared to other options that take land out of production. Lifting the drill up to leave a small square unplanted goes against the grain a bit for many, as farmers are proud of the look of their crops, even if they aren’t always profitable. In fact the joke excuse to a drill malfunction leading to unsown patches in the field is to say ‘they’re skylark plots’.

      I added the supplementary feeding option to our agreement last winter and I must say the results were visible very quickly, as shown on my motion-sensitive ‘trailcam’ I set up to record some of the species feeding. I did however think how many dinners for the homeless the money spent on seed would buy as I dished it on Christmas Day!

      1. Andy, you sound like a very good farmer. Have you had any issues with woodpigeons on your supplementary feeding areas?
        I’ve heard they can be buggers for hovering-up all the seed, also some concern about the fact they can carry trichomonosis and yellowhammers in particular can be susceptible to picking this up. I guess frequent rotation of feeding areas is the solution.

        Re skylark plots, I can’t blame a farmer for not wanting to leave areas undrilled; I guess some farming sensibilities are deeply ingrained. There are some other reasons though, including rotation and contractor issues.

        If a farmer includes a rotational ELS option in his agreement, such as skylark plots, then these have to be present each year, they can’t be swapped for another option for a year. Skylark plots are not always easy to fit into the rotation as, for quite sensible reasons, they can only be placed in fields >5ha and in fields not bounded by woods and boundary trees unless the field is >10ha. This makes it tricky for mixed farms in many of the western counties where the average field size is often smaller and the landscape more is frequently more wooded.

        Another major factor, and perhaps the more significant, is that many farmers use contractors for drilling crops. Although there are some very good contractors out there, many are adept, despite being issued strict instructions (and cab-cards and maps in some cases), at forgetting to leave the plots undrilled. These chaps are also usually quite good at forgetting other instructions such as leaving margins uncultivated and NVZ buffer zones un-mucked! I’ve heard one farmer describe this condition as Young Contractors Disease.

        I’ve also been told that some on certain types of seed-drill it is not that straightforward to simply switch the drill off just for a short 4-6m run.

        1. Yes woodpigeons did quite well out of the supplementary feeding, as did badgers and pheasants and various other ‘non-target’ species. Moving the feeding sites around is key and from a hygiene point of view I try not to put seed down in the same place If I can help it. Seeing birds on the camera trap that I hadn’t spotted with my binoculars myself such as brambling and reed bunting was very rewarding.

        2. “NVZ buffer zones”

          I wish this term expunged from the guidance. “Buffer Zone” has a specific meaning related to minimizing the impacts of an adjacent land use. Some have described means of calculating them according to volume of the potential pollutant, soil, slope and vegetative cover. The results tend to return very much greater figures than the arbitrary standard “10 metres” so beloved of legislators. Let’s call them “No Spreading Zones” and have done. They’ll be telling us to store slurry in a vessel, next.

          1. Filbert,

            No need to worry, the guidance refers to them as ‘non-spreading areas’, only a few lazy folks like me occasionally refer to them as ‘buffer zones’. You do make a good point though.

            I wonder if the legislators have ever considered the impact of bagged N being applied to the ‘nsa’ (or 8m of it) at the same rates as the rest of the field. On multi-cut silage fields the difference in P & K levels can be quite pronounced, no doubt the result of 11 years worth of off-takes not having being replaced. How much N leaching does this cause ? Do they imagine farmers fill up the fertilizer spreader with MOP and TSP just to apply to nsa’s ?

    2. Reeta, it is a tricky balance. When Mark and I worked for the RSPB there was often a desire to not mix the words farmer and farming to avoid inadvertently causing offence. This is not such a trivial point because when I started at the RSPB a little over a decade ago, some of the information about offsetting for nature was just about reaching the stage where it could be launched. Therefore, it was fair to put the blame on farming methods because farmers did not have the information to put in such things as skylark plots. The picture is very different today because there is no getting away from the point that farmers now have the information but the take-up has been slow. Personally, I find that a little disappointing but it must be utterly frustrating for the farmers who have chosen to undertake any of the offsetting options available.

      1. Ian, you are a good friend to your old collegue. However, given the information you talk about is now available is it not incumbent upon conservationists to be careful with their language? Reading back though recent blogs you are one of the voices of reason, could you not explain to Mark of the need to stop locking horns with anybody who disagrees with him whether past or present? We’re now talking about conservationists rather than conservation!! I want to see your man succeed because I want the disconnection rate amongst adults and children improved and the decline in bio-diversity halted, at the moment he looks like a liability.

        1. Reeta, to be fair Mark is his own man if you know what I mean and I would not presume to tell him how to think or talk, even if I wanted to do so.

          However, I think one of the problems conservation has and with particular reference to the RSPB is balancing how strong a message it sends out with not upsetting members and potential members by ill-considered strong language. There is a temptation to see conservation NGOs in the same way as say, the Born Free Foundation and expect them to react in the strongest possible way. As you will see from reactions to Mark’s blogs here it tends to hit raw nerves when delivered in the strongest terms where conservation is concerned. I suppose this begs the question (to reverse your point to some extents) ‘is the RSPB effective enough in how it delivers its message?’ I think it is because the message is delivered through the excellent membership levels that make a strong (but often overlooked) impact in Westminster. Yet, that does not mean every message is heard loudly enough and with all the offsetting techniques now available I think it is right to look at the root causes as to why they are being ignored. Mark does not have to tiptoe around these ministers in the same way he did back them and to be honest, he does not have to tiptoe around farmer’s attitudes either. If this was Facebook or Twitter, the discussion would have descended into abuse by now; had it been Bird Forum, it would now be gummed up by quotes, counter-quotes and links to irrelevant scientific papers that supported a posters position rather than his/her argument. Stick with it Reeta, Mark does not mind if you disagree and neither would I. It is a pity more people in and around conservation do not come here because it is the Internet equivalent of a pub get together where we all try to put the world to rights. Heck we even have our resident jokers. 😉

          1. Ian, another creditable attempt to defend the indefensible. If I understand you correctly, inside the rspb you must not upset those who are subsidising your pension pot, outside you can act like a bull in a china shop with impunity? In the meantime our wildlife and nature continues to decline at a frightening pace.

            Please step forward somebody who can steer the middle ground – Simon Barnes? Victoria Chester – she was by far the best speaker at the launch of the State of Nature Report.

            Previously I listed what I felt where the characteristics of the best conservationists, I omitted the ability to listen and learn. Earnest, Andy and Julian are calling out to you but if Julian is right in his advice at the bottom of this blog and you are right about this being the internet equivalent of a pub get together then we may as well all give up. Perhaps our resident jokers can come up with a “cracker” on that one?

          2. Reeta – this blog is a bit like a pub, or a restaurant, or an art gallery – if you don’t like the fare on offer then you don’t have to come back. I don’t mean to be rude by saying that, but this is my blog and I’ll write whatever I like! And again, no-one is engaging with what the blog was about – the awful record of the NFU led by Peter Kendall. Attacking me, which I don’t mind too much, really isn’t the same as defending the NFU’s record and it is noticeable that nobody is!

            And, you don’t appear to understand what Ian wrote because you have rewritten it. Do you have anything to say about the NFU’s record – or do you just turn up here to have a go at those who criticise it?

          3. Reeta, Dr Avery will continue to write what he likes – farmers, politicians, toffs beware! It’s his blog so good luck to him, perhaps he should drop the “Standing up for Nature” tag and leave that to Findlay.

  10. Touche!

    Yes I had completely forgotten about Tim Bennett, he was decent chap who kept quiet a fairly low profile, which is probably to his credit. When the NFU President is in the press it is usually for wrong reasons.

    I do not recall Sir Ben’s quote, but it does sound like the sort of thing a Yorkshire farmer might say!

  11. Andy very good explanation.

    Ernest,if you see this I think I was wrong in being rude to you some days ago and on reflection it is obvious as I retired 10 years ago I am somewhat out of touch and probably needed the prompt.Am sorry if I sound as if my opinion is always correct it is not how I think or how I wish it came over as everyone’s opinion is is of a similar importance as I see it.

    1. Dennis, thank you for taking to time to apologise, but there was really no need, I certainly didn’t feel that you owed me one, but I appreciate it all the same. Sorry if my comments appeared a bit terse, water under the bridge and all that.

      I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate to spend my working life helping farmers to help the farmed environment. I’m fairly thick-skinned and one thing I particularly enjoy about working with farmers is just how honest and frank most of them are. If they disagree with what you are saying, or think you’re talking bollocks (which is probably quite often) they usually don’t hesitate to let you know, there’s no hidden agenda and you know exactly where you stand. Equally, I think they appreciate the fact I’m as frank in return and don’t tell them what I think they want to hear.

      In the long-term this makes for very constructive dialogue, I’m sure I’ve learnt as much, if not more, from my farming clients as they have from me. No doubt I’d have probably learnt a fair a bit from you if I’d had the pleasure of visiting your dairy farm.

      I’ll look forward to many more good natured arguments with you in the future!

      Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

  12. Andy if your still checking this thread hopefully you might get this. As a farmer myself with I think 7 ELS schemes and one HLS on land we manage I have every sympathy for your feeling about wanting to give up when you read comments such as those Mark posted. Please don’t as frankly Marks views don’t represent the majority thinking on this. What is sometimes not understood on this is how successful the NFU’s stance was in stopping farmers from leaving the schemes once their five or ten year agreements were up for renewal. We have two schemes whose payment rates have not altered since they were brought in after CSA finished. During that period both output prices and input costs have risen dramatically with say wheat going from £70 tn to £200 and fertiliser prices trebling. I am surprised that anyone given those economics would remain in stewardship schemes and regardless of Mark’s views it’s a credit to the industry that they did. As for the counter argument of taxpayers money via subsidies and getting value it shows a staggering lack of both economic awareness and naivety. Every good exporting nation in the west subsidies agricultural production in one way or another for political and socioeconomic reasons. We have to compete in this market handicapped by a cost structure based on subsidies. Supermarket buyer, fertiliser companies and machinery manufactures know full well that they are selling or buying into a subsidy supported sector and adjust prices on this basis. To have NGO,s and individuals then lambast farmers for the imposed structure they work within is very weak thinking. Get rid of subsidies, all of them and the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned.

    In the meantime I fully intent to support the ELS and HLS until we see what it’s replacement is like. Don’t get depressed by ill thought out criticism.

  13. All – this blog was, mostly about the record of the NFU and its outgoing President. Only Jonathan and Ernest have really responded to the thrust of the post. The ‘I’m a good farmer’ or ‘There are lots of good farmers out there’ lines are (or may be) true but they don’t address the overall position of farming over the last couple of decades. The only justification for farming getting such huge public financial support is the provision of public goods such as landscape, wildlife and clean water. How has farming done in recent years – not that well? How interested has farming sounded in these issues in recent years – almost completely uncaring? I’d be interested to hear the argument for the NFU’s great environmental leadership under the reign of PK.

  14. Mark none of that is going to matter in the next twenty years. Commodity prices will continue to rise exponentially as demand continues to place enormous strain of farming and the environment. Even today the subsidy element is a fraction of what is was in real terms twenty years ago, £30 per hectare for Els is just irrelevant today. If you want a glimpse of what the next twenty years will bring in agriculture you can see a reflection in land values, they’ve trebled in six years. The argument that farming is a subsidised industry and therefore owes society for it’s existence is going to be as irreverent as the food mountain and intervention argument which brought in set aside and started this whole debate. If you want, as I do, a place for the environment in this future you’re going to have to think outside the confines of the past two decades. That’s the debate you should be having which is one of engagement.

    1. Julian – interesting comment, and no doubt I will come back to some of that in future blogs (and have done in the past – just not here) – but again you avoid talking about the NFU’s record. How does Peter Kendall’s anti-environment stance over several years contribute to that future? How many marks would you give him, speaking for English and Welsh farmers, for engagement?

      You say you want a debate of engagement – what did you do to prevent farming’s voice, the thrice-re-elected President of the NFU, disengaging farming from the environment over the last eight years? Badgers, neonics, set-aside and outspoken downgrading of the importance of wildlife is quite a disengagement for an industry that gets £3.3bn from the taxpayer.

      ELS is not subsidy by the way. SFP is subsidy.

  15. Mark,I find myself with agreeing with part of both sides and I do see your points.
    The bit I have come to find very amusing is that the very small proportion of your tax that goes to farmers and as I see it completely out of UK control as the EU sets out the CAP and we seem to have very little if any influence there,you actually find so annoying that you come back to it time after time(of course I guess it is good for blogs and comment numbers).
    What is funny is a much larger proportion of your taxes that is wasted and the UK has more control over such as for example the waste of benefits for people who could easily work you never mention.That money could just as easily or probably more easily be funnelled for wildlife.

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