Peter Kendall again

We’ll miss him when he is gone won’t we?

I am grateful to Martin Harper’s blog (always worth reading) for pointing me in the direction of Peter Kendall’s last speech as NFU President at an Oxford Farming Conference.

He couldn’t resist having a badly-judged dig at the RSPB, which should bring home the message to the RSPB that there is no point (or under Peter’s reign there has been no point) in trying to build relationships with the NFU because they are not reliable allies.

Martin called it Peter’s silliest ever speech!  And to get to the top of that list takes some doing!

I’m not so sure though.  Although Peter Kendall has been a pantomime villain in the pages (electronic though they are of this blog, this speech is well worth reading and thinking about.

Peter starts by living in the mid-1950s – I sometimes wish I could too, it would be such a revelation to see the richness of the English countryside then, and such a depressing journey back in time to the present day when arable plants, insects and farmland birds are so depleted.

Kendall’s six points on EU are;

  1. improve governance because decision-making among 28 nations is a nightmare – I agree and have said the same here and elsewhere often.  I am not sure about the solution but I am convinced that this is a problem.
  2. make the food chain work – yes, but for whom? Peter wants farmers to have a fair return from the market, and I guess I do too, although I am more concerned about farmers getting a fair return than whence it comes.  Maybe Peter should have a word with the Tory Party about markets.  There is nothing unfair about the market – it might not give farmers what they want but then driving down prices and boosting efficicincy is what markets are supposed to do. The NFU seems to want to be rewarded by the taxpayer and protected from the market – they should look to a Left-wing political party if that’s what they want!  They might not find one when they look, but that’s what they need.
  3. base things on science – everybody says this but Peter really means technology not science.  The NFU ignore the science on biodiversity declines and what has been shown to be needed to reverse those declines all the time – the impact of intensive farming on the environment is their inconvenient truth.  I think Peter wants GM technology and publicly-funded research to underpin innovation in agriculture.  Most indetroesd
  4. review competencies – Kendall wants agriculture policy to remain a European issue whereas environment could be a national one.  I suspect that this is because farmers are such a strong lobby inn  the EU that Kendall thinks it is in the selfish economic interests of UK farmers to have the French arguing strongly on agriculture but that he thinks farmers incomes would be higher if there weren’t all those foreigners arguing for environmental measures too.  we can be quite sure that Kendall wouldn’t like this to be done the other way round!
  5. environment protection or enhancement – protection should be a European issue whereas enhancement should be national.
  6. the next Commission – Kendall is worried that the next commission might not be totally pro-industrial farming. He worries that it might look backwards towards protection!

And he goes on a bit more, including some descriptions of the past that don’t accord with my recollections of what happened.

I started by saying that we’ll miss him when he’s gone, won’t we? Well, I’d be surprised if he will be gone.

After Peter picks up his knighthood for service to agriculture in the summer what will he do then? He has ruled out a career in politics – though those in the know suspect he might be tempted in that direction. I must check who the next Conservative candidate for Sir Jim Paice’s South East Cambridgeshire constituency might be when Sir Jim stands down next year.

 

 

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7 Replies to “Peter Kendall again”

  1. there are many more extreme views than Peter Kendall's and his apparent mutability comes from having to manage a difficult political constituency.

    Another worry prompted by your point about going back to the 80s is moves in the agricultural community to "boost" the citizen led bird surveys, such as the RSPB's, with additional records from farmers, as farmers don't believe the farmland bird decline numbers.

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    1. The idea of the Big Farmland Bird Count is not to disprove scientific data on bird declines, but to give recognition to those who are doing good work, and also as another means of assessing which measures are working best. Anything that gets people out watching and counting birds has got to be a good thing.

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  2. I know lots of great farmers due to work with Barn Owls spreading the word of natural predation of mice and rats but then comes a rep flogging poison cheap. 'You better have some just in case'. Or it may be insecticide or a nice man from DEFRA encouraging just hawthorn in the hedge not a variety of shrubs. Many farmers are led on by these folk as I may only see the farmer once or twice a year for free while these boys are constantly knocking on the door often giving bad information. One Defra guy had his own farm so on a site visit 'where were the Barn Owl boxes'! He had been advising others for over 15 years and he had none!!

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  3. I wonder if the NFU will re-imburse the Gloucestershire and Somerset police for the bill for policing the cull of badgers especially now the firgures for infected cattle have had to be removed due to a "computer error", apparently the computer said NO but the NFU/Defra et al said YES. so it seems Mr.K can't even rely on technology

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    1. James, I couldn't quite understand your comments so had a search around for myself. An interesting document from DEFRA about inaccurate figures for the past 2 years and TB figures likely to reduced considerably as a result. Clearly BTB figures have been flatlining or slightly decreasing since 2008 even based on the inaccurate figures. Also nice to see the number of cattle having to be slaughtered appears to reduced by nearly 10% in 2013.

      https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/271234/bovinetb-statsnotice-15jan14a.pdf

      I don't have a problem with targetted culling of badgers in the right circumstances but I do wish the facts would be quoted accurately.

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  4. Mark, I think what you've done here epitomises the problem facing the whole conservation sector - you've dived straight for the managerial policy tweeks without questioning the headline premise Kendall puts forward. It may be because you, and the rest of the sector, don't think there is much you can do about it - but I'd contest you are going to make minimal progress if you don't take on the big ones.

    The absolute headline is 'increase agricultural productivity by promoting technical progress' which carries with it the unspoken sub-text of 'at any cost to other interests'.

    Bluntly, this was not what UK legislators set out to do after WW2: they set out to create a vibrant and viable agricultural industry where we never went back to the slump - abandoned land, impoverished farmers, technological stagnation - of the 1930s. We must always remember that none of the leading players conceived of the possibility of getting to where we are now - our ability to change the environment with machines and chemicals, the impact of what has happened on other values like water and wildlife.

    There is a simple underlying problem in agriculture today: ethics and technology have become completely detached. The industry never stops to ask 'we can do this, but should we ?' and even worse it gets furious when the public stops it - we are 'wicked' for opposing GM and no doubt for refusing to pump our dairy cattle full of hormones. Even what we are doing scares me rigid and being told by a no doubt well intentioned history graduate that I've nothing to worry about does the opposite of reassuring me.

    Kendall then revels in having put food security back on the political agenda - and NFU has, however spurious their arguments may be. And very spurious they are: we are c 70% self-sufficient but not, as NFU would like to imply, at a survival level - we are 70% sufficient at the highest, almost unbelievable level of luxury, so much so that we are poisoning ourselves with too much food. A huge proportion of our grain goes into meat at a best ration of 4:1 conversion. I wonder if anyone has worked out our self sufficiency on a WW2 level 'survival' diet ? It must be at least 150% - and right next door to us France, with the same population produces 3 times as much food as the UK. The real index of food security has been farmers reaction to alternative landuse - did NFU ever raise a concern over energy crops (60,000 ha of oilseed rape goes into energy already) ? Had they succeeded we could easily have 20 or 30% of our land under them by now - but would the farmers have claimed food security if the margins were better than wheat or barley ? The evidence is all the other way, and, if you are really concerned about food security you'll find the real risk in the USA: with Europe & N.America having completely skewed world markets with their massive subsidies and massive production, the US has unilaterally decided to put 25% of its world trade dominating Maize crop into biofuels - if anyone is going hungry, that is where to look first.

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