What is Agriculture in 2018

The Agriculture Bill is very important draft legislation.  We might expect it to define agriculture itself with a new definition fit for the 21st century and our post-Brexit future.  But the closest it seems to get is clause 13 which tells us that ‘agriculture includes any growing of plants, and any keeping of creatures, for the production of food or drink’.  Agriculture here is however, only defined in the narrow context of “agri-food supply chain(s)”.  Nowhere in the bill does there seem to be a definition of agriculture for the bill’s broader purpose.

Contrast this with the vision of the 1947 Agriculture Act which told us that:

“agriculture” includes horticulture, fruit growing, seed growing, dairy farming and livestock breeding and keeping, the use of land as grazing land, meadow land, osier land, market gardens and nursery grounds, and the use of land for woodlands where that use is ancillary to the farming of land for other agricultural purposes, and “agricultural” shall be construed accordingly.

What is more, the 1947 Act also defined good husbandry and good estate management.  Good husbandry seems as apposite in 2018 as it did in 1947; perhaps the good estate management of the 1940’s is the good land management of the 21st century.

Should the new legislation be defining these matters for the 21st century, and if so what should the definitions be?

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Health and Harmony: the future of UK Agriculture

Tonight sees the deadline for responses to the Defra (The UK Dept for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Command Paper on future policy for Agriculture.

Despite reading the document carefully I can’t clearly see what the farmer or farm of the future might look like, but I do get a sense of a higher and more demanding regulatory baseline, albeit with an aspiration for it to be administered more sensibly.

Productivity seems to be important (or is that profitability?  Should the two be conflated?) but there are no clear statements on the nature of the productivity improvements – labour productivity? Total Factor Productivity? Capital productivity? In terms of output or value added …..

As a strategy document the Command Paper seems to offer no clear analysis or evaluation of the current ‘state of the industry’ (eg SWOT analysis or the like); little real analysis of the trade environment (PESTEL) or how it might develop post Brexit. There is a kind of acknowledgement that UK farming’s USPs (Unique Selling Points) are about quality and welfare, and its potential to provide ‘public goods’ but is a strategy based on these factors supported by evidence from the marketplace?

This all seems to herald a tough regulatory baseline against which farmers increase the use of automation, Artificial Intelligence and local labour resources, acting cooperatively and with access to a range of insurance products to protect against volatility but with fallback protections from the government against extreme events in which the provision of public goods will somehow be recognised – at the lowest level through compliance requirements, but perhaps through government payments of some sort at higher levels.

The role of the cooperatives may extend to landscape and catchment scale land management. The leading models in terms of current enterprises seem to be pigs and poultry. We can expect to see regression in direct support with the bigger providers potentially seeming to have the most to lose – this looks like an interim period after which all producers will see regular direct payments abolished.  But who can provide more in the way of public goods?  Smallholders or large-scale farmers and land managers?

There is little discussion of husbandry itself, or the more general commercialisation of farming and farmers – a good business focus and discipline would go a long way to addressing many of the omissions from the Command Paper.

This also reflects the absence of commitment to commissioning and using business/market/behavioural/economic research into the industry itself – this would give well informed answers to many of the questions raised. The questions themselves look as if they will limit the scope of consultees’ responses eg the consultation questions on p35 where two lists are offered from which the preferred three options have to be selected from each: what if the bottom three on list one were above your top three on list two?

It looks as if we can expect to see an emphasis on off farm measures – bringing in benefits of public education, health provision, infrastructure, border protections, biosecurity/phytosanitary measures, labour schemes, apprenticeships.  There is not a lot of obvious commitment to agricultural R&D as such.

Business, leadership (HRM), husbandry, science and ethics should be at the core of any future strategy for the industry along with the answers to some basic questions about the role of farming, food production and food self-sufficiency in a modern western economy.  Did you find these in the Command Paper?  I don’t think I did.

A new Agriculture Act is promised.  Perhaps like its 1947 predecessor we need new definitions of good husbandry and sound land management (estate management in the 1947 Act).

Rural Proofing: a key reference for rural activists and analysts

Rural analysts and activists take note.  Defra has updated its rural proofing guidance this week.  This will be a key reference for anybody interested in the development and impact of policies which affect rural areas.  Why?

Because policy measures are meant to have been ‘rural proofed’.  So the criteria for rural proofing are important because they provide a framework for the independent evaluation of rural impact.  They are also therefore a sound basis on which to challenge measures which may adversely affect rural economic, social and environmental interests, or to promote measures which will support these interests.

The Defra guidance tells us:

Thriving rural communities are vital to the English economy. A fifth of us live in rural areas and they are home to a quarter of England’s businesses, and generate 16.5% of the English economy. Rural areas face particular challenges around distance, sparsity and demography and it is important that government policies consider these properly.
Rural proofing is about understanding the impacts of policies in rural areas. It ensures that these areas receive fair and equitable policy outcomes. This guidance sets out a four- stage process to achieve this objective.

Figure One of the Defra Guidance offers this four stage process for rural-proofing:

Rural Proofing Process

The Guidance goes on to suggest this way to assess rural impact:

Rural Impact How to Assess

Worth a look for anybody concerned with rural policy and development nationally, regionally or locally.

New Brexit Blog

I have set up a new blog site solely dedicated to Brexit, Farming and the Rural Economy.

You can see it here, and in particular a page of links to useful information which I hope to keep updated with relevant publications and other sources of Brexit information as they appear.

I hope you will find it a useful resource.  Please send in any suggestions for material you think is needed, or other suggestions for its development.

Concise Rural Taxation 2017/17 Now Available

Concise Rural Taxation (formerly Taxation for Students of Rural Land Management) is now an annual publication.  This year’s edition is now available. Continue reading “Concise Rural Taxation 2017/17 Now Available”

Measure for Measure

Philip Meade has published a post on his Dispute Resolution blog which serves as an excellent reminder of some of the good practice surveying basics: points which are just as useful to a trainee or newly-qualified surveyor as they are to an experienced arbitrator.  I’m delighted to reproduce it below:

Despite our professional roots in land surveying it is not uncommon as an arbitrator to come across valuation disputes in which the precise location and extent of the original problem is far from c…

Source: Measure for Measure