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).

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Twenty-five year Environment Plan

First thoughts on today’s 25 year Environment Plan?  Confirmation of the direction of travel we have seen since the Natural Environment White Paper of 2011: The Natural Choice: securing the Value of Nature

The headline points for farmers and land managers: Continue reading “Twenty-five year Environment Plan”

Estates Gazette Rural View: Christmas Reading

I have been writing a quarterly column for the Estates Gazette since 2013 called Rural View.  This year’s articles have covered Water, Forestry, Scotland and farming safety.  If you’d like to catch up with any of the articles over the Christmas holiday, here they are:

Farming Safety: EG Rural View Dec 14 H&S

Scotland: Rural View Sep 2014

Forestry and Woodland Valuation and TaxationEG Rural View May 2014 Forestry

Water: EG Rural View February 14 Water

Meanwhile a happy Christmas and prosperous new year to all my readers and visitors.

The Privatisation of Biodiversity

Professor Colin Reid and Dr Walters Nsoh presented the conclusions of their research programme at the University of Dundee on 20 February 2014. Their research has focussed on the legal implications of the development of new ‘markets’ in natural capital. The emphasis tended to focus on biodiversity offsetting and payments for ecosystem services. Law Commissioner Prof Elizabeth Cooke provided an extremely helpful update on progress with the introduction of conservation covenants in England and Wales. The Parliamentary Draftsman is working on draft legislation following the Law Commission’s review last year so we are likely to see a new type of land covenant in the next two years or so. These covenants will be distinct because Continue reading “The Privatisation of Biodiversity”

Who wants what this time?

Systemic Solutions at the landscape-water interface was the title of a workshop held at Bristol Aquarium on Monday 10 February 2014, and I was asked to speak about the landowner’s perspective.

Who want what this time? was my opening question.  When dealing with anything in relation to rural land it’s vital to realise that you are rarely starting with a blank sheet.  Are you dealing with the Somerset Levels or the Cambridge Fens, Exmoor or the Peak District, or something in between?  Some of the items that may already be listed on that far-from-blank sheet include: Continue reading “Who wants what this time?”

From Market Value to Natural Value: Challenges to International Professional Practice

RICS launched this international thought leadership paper at its headquarters in Parliament Square, London on 15 November.

The paper reviews important business opportunities in the provision of nature’s services, or ecosystem services.  There are important opportunities for chartered surveyors to be involved in this.  Most obviously this will consist of working with clients to think through the opportunities and challenges to land management.

Less obviously the RICS and its membership has an important and unique contribution to offer to the development of these ideas.  Our long experience of regulated valuation work in challenging commercial environments, and our knowledge of the interaction between land tenure and asset management, are both examples of points which have scarcely yet been recognised in this emerging field.

There are also implications for valuation work.  Traditional valuation work will have to take account of new factors, and there will be requirements for entirely new types of valuation and appraisal.

The report itself is available from the RICS Website (follow this link).  I have blogged before on the top environmental business opportunities (link here)

The RICS presentation was followed by a lively debate with five panellists.  This has been summarised in the following YouTube video of the presentation and discussion which starts by looking at a project in Exmoor to improve water management, restore peat, and store carbon:

I would be very interested in feedback from readers on the ideas outlined in the paper, and to the ‘video’ as the use of video in this way is a new initiative.