Weekly roundup: Brexit, BPS and British Food

Brexit

Boy, do I ever talk about anything else?

On Monday 18th April the NFU will announce its official position ahead of the referendum. It will be the last of the farming unions to do so.

The position of other farming unions is as follows:

NFU Scotland: In

NFU Cymru: In

Farmers’ Union of Wales: In

Ulster Farming Union: In

Tenant Farmers Association: In

Country Land and Business Association: Neutral

BPS claims

As mentioned previously, only 87% of farmers have received their BPS payments. This figure is only 65% in Scotland.

The deadline for 2016 applications is only a month away, 16 May, so the EU is considering an extension. While this will allow farmers more time to negotiate the online system, NFU vice-president Guy Smith quoted in Farmer’s Weekly warned that it would have:

“significant, negative consequences” that would shorten the window for processing claims and cause delayed payments and disallowance penalties for Defra.

Buying British Food

This week the NFU has released an online shopping guide which shows the best Supermarkets for British produce. It can be accessed here.

It’s good news for British poultry and eggs with most supermarkets sourcing 100% from the UK. Pork is much less likely to be UK sourced, with much coming from the EU.  Unsurprisingly M&S and Waitrose come out well.

Top advice is to look for the red tractor, which according to Red Tractor Assurance:

…means that the way food is farmed and prepared is regularly checked by independent experts to make sure it is of a good standard.

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(c) Red Tractor 2016

 

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UK Farming’s Relationship with the EU

This week I’m going to focus on the report released by the NFU which looked into the economic implications of leaving or remaining in the EU.

As I only have 2 daytime hours a week free from hobbitbaby (if I’m lucky) I’m going to focus on this a bit. I feel the EU referendum is very, very important and deserves a great deal of attention.

Unfortunately, the wider issue of the EU (on which it rests) is possibly the most complex thing I’ve ever attempted to understand. Including my PhD studies. Wikipedia, what would I do without you as a point of reference?

*looks up Treaty of Rome*

What is it?

The report “UK Farming’s Relationship with the EU” was commissioned by the National Farmers Union (NFU) and conducted by scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands*.

It looks into the economic effects of us leaving the EU compared to remaining in it. It is 24 pages long, and pretty accessible to the layperson.

It can be accessed here.

What does it cover?

Without cutting and pasting the contents, it looks at trade with the EU, labour availability, the common agricultural policy (CAP), EU legislation, and research in the UK (which is often EU funded). Importantly it also looks at the likely impact on agriculture of a UK exit from the EU.

What are its conclusions?

… the reality is that currently many farmers do not make fair returns from the market. As a result, the CAP helps address the failure of agricultural markets to deliver a fair level of income for farmers. It helps farmers deal with market volatility and ensures a degree of resilience to shocks.

The overall conclusion is that the UK would be worse off if we leave.

The report mentions that 55% of UK total farm income is from CAP payments, and that Norway contributes about two thirds of what the UK does to the EU (and the biggest contribution of all countries given the size of its economy), but as it is not a member it has no influence.

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 11.26.09

How has it been received?

In his introduction to the report Meurig Raymond, president of the NFU writes:

The NFU has not taken a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ stance ahead of the conclusion of the renegotiation. At this stage we simply can’t.

Defra minister George Eustice, who is campaigning for the UK to leave the EU, has dismissed the report, saying:

These types of reports always say more about the economic model and the assumptions that underlie it than they necessarily do about real life.

Ukip MEP and farmer Stuart Agnew insightfully pointed out that the NFU should have commissioned the report from a UK university rather than a Dutch one.

NFU director Martin Haworth quoted in Farmers Weekly makes the point that the critical points here are political, not economic.

What would the UK government’s position be on international trade and its impact on the consumer price of food? How would it ensure British farmers are treated fairly.

Speculation in the article mentions that:

The report fails to consider the potential benefits of a post-Brexit UK government slashing the level of regulation faced by farmers. But neither does it consider any potential decline in demand for British food if some processors relocate outside the UK to remain in the single market.

In other words, there are many more factors at work.

My conclusion?

For my tenpennuth, I think a lot rides on the outcome of trade negotiations. It seems much of the Leave campaign is based on us introducing a free trade agreement with the EU – which of course relies on Brussels agreeing to one. The ‘stay’ campaign has been accused of scaremongering, but personally it’s not fear that makes me lean toward staying, it’s cynicism.

This week I was having a chat with a friend of mine at t’allotments, and we ended up talking about Brexit and agriculture, as along with hobbitbaby it’s just about all I talk about these days. He wondered if our main problem was that the UK is just not very good at playing the Brussels game.

As an example, our reaction to the banning of caged hens in the EU was a unilateral, thoroughly policed ban. And in France they appointed one person in Paris to sort it all out. You see, technically – technically – they were addressing the problem.

I think if we negotiate it well, leaving could present some amazing possibilities to farmers, but equally it could be disastrous.

 

* Recently ranked #1 in the world for agriculture. Don’t worry, my alma mater, Reading is still #1 in the UK 😉

Weekly roundup: Budget, sheep and Eatwell

The budget

The big news this week is the budget, and while the conversion of schools to academies and cuts to disability allowances have made headlines, the one we’re most interested in is the sugar tax.

A summary of the budget on GOV.uk states that:

Soft drinks companies will pay a levy on drinks with added sugar from April 2018. This will apply to drinks with total sugar content above 5 grams per 100 millilitres, with a higher rate for more than 8 grams per 100 millilitres. This won’t need to be paid on milk-based drinks or fruit juices.

This will be used to double the primary PE and sport premium (the additional money schools have to spend on PE and sports) to £320 million a year.

The aim of this tax is to tackle the worrying rise childhood obesity by reducing sugar intake and increasing exercise.

The business implications are interesting, and may in fact benefit many soft-drink manufacturers. As noted in the International Business Times:

The fact that this tax is not to be applied until 2018 gives soft drinks companies plenty of time to change the formulation of their drinks. The likes of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Britvic have time to introduce healthier variants of their most popular soft drinks, replacing sugar partially or fully with such naturally-derived sweeteners, such as Stevia.

These companies are well aware of the probable backlash on sugary drinks and are well positioned to deal with it having low-sugar alternatives in development and on the shelves.

Other winners are likely to be companies producing sugar alternatives such as Splenda (Tate and Lyle) and Stevia (Pure Circle).

It has also been noted that drinks manufacturers may file a legal case against the government for unfairly discriminating against soft drinks while making milk-based drinks and fruit juices exempt. George Osborne has reportedly said “Bring it on“.

Sheep worrying

A recent attack on sheep on a farm near Chichester, West Sussex, left 116 animals dead. The deaths are believed to be caused by an uncontrolled dog.

With lambing imminent most of the animals will have been pregnant.

credit Oast House Archive

(c) Oast House Archive

Sgt Tom Carter reminded dog owners that farmers are legally allowed to shoot dogs who are worrying their livestock, in accordance with the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.

The Eatwell Plate

The editorial of FW this week raised an interesting point this week: while the media was busy with the budget, Public Health England released a new Eatwell Guide which halves the recommended intake of dairy from 15% to 8%. Figures explaining why it has been reduced are apparently hard to find, and there has been little consultation with the UK dairy industry – both Dairy UK and the Dairy Council say they had no input in the process.

 Eatwell plates new (left) and old (right)

Easter lamb

‘Tis the festival to eat lamb, and I have always had it at Easter. This year I was disappointed to find that my supermarket only had imported New Zealand legs of lamb. Nothing against the Kiwis, but we do produce rather a lot of it here and I always like to support our farmers. At some point chez Roberts will get back to getting our meat from an actual butchers. I miss discussing cuts and projects with butchers.

Apparently I was not the only one to notice this, and a FW spot check showed a wide mix of UK and NZ lamb on offer for Easter. The NFU’s chief livestock adviser criticised Morrisons for its heavy promotion of NZ lamb, and praised Aldi for only stocking UK lamb. Read more here.

A4 Waist challenge

A step away from impartiality, and from food directly; but the A4 waist challenge this week highlights the poor attitude so many people have to food (and their bodies).

What is it? Simple: you hold up a piece of A4 paper against your tum to show that your waistline is no larger than a piece of A4 paper.

Why? Because social media, that’s why.

Weekly Roundup: Brexit, Brexit, Brexit

Well, I’m sure there’s lots of other things happening in the world of food this week, but the issue of agriculture in the referendum on us leaving the EU is still the biggie.

The process for withdrawing from the European Union

A document released by the cabinet office this week outlines the process for withdrawing from the European Union. It is covered well in The Guardian here.

Most pointedly, section 2.9 of the document states that:

… a vote to leave the EU would be the start, not the end, of a process. It
could lead to up to a decade or more of uncertainty.
Opinion rages on both sides, but I do wonder if many people realise that if we vote to leave the EU on 23rd June it won’t mean freedom from Brussels by July. It’s a long process.

Defra 25-year plan for Agriculture

This week Liz Truss stated at the NFU’s conference that Defra’s 25-year plan for agriculture will:

… detail how we will attract even more skilled people to the industry, build the British brand and increase exports.

Unfortunately though it hasn’t yet been published, and it is long overdue: initially it was expected before Christmas. Now the government says it will be published later in the spring, writes Johann Tasker in FW.

I, and no doubt many famers am awaiting it with baited breath.

‘Childish turf war’ blamed for farm payment delays

Meanwhile in Whitehall, a pretty damning report released by the Public Accounts Committee outlines the reasons behind why payments to farmers have been delayed. The key reasons, outlined in the summary were:

 … key bodies involved in the Common Agricultural Policy Delivery Programme … were unable to work together effectively.

Dysfunctional and inappropriate behaviours amongst senior leaders were inexcusable and deeply damaging to the Programme.

An inability to agree a clear vision for the Programme meant that the frequent changes in leadership were accompanied by changes of direction, shifts in focus and further disruption.
Some reasons given by those involved, mentioned by Labour MP Meg Hillier (quoted in FW) were:
‘we worked on different floors’ and ‘we dressed differently’
Hum.
I’ve been trying to stay on the fence on this, but the more I read, the more I find it hard to believe that us exiting the EU is going to result in anything beneficial for farmers any time soon.

Weekly roundup: Floods, Brexit and ‘flu

So, what’s happening in the world of UK agriculture this week?

Floods

Shocker: it’s been raining in the UK this winter.

Unfortunately, it’s been quite heavy, and as farmers are currently prohibited from dredging waterways on their land, the drainage ability of agricultural land has been compromised leading to some heart-rending consequences for farmers, e.g. cattle spending the night with water up to their bellies and sheep being simply washed away; and obviously farmers can’t drill crops into land covered by water.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced plans to allow farmers to dredge water courses on their land without need prior approval from the Environment Agency, though opinion is split amongst farmers.

A Farmers Weekly poll of 135 respondents showed that 59% were in favour of farmers being paid to “store” the flood water on their land to avoid flooding in more populated areas.

It reminds me of the same situation 2 years ago which resulted in many Politicians in Wellies Staring at Floods. It seems we have very short memories when it comes to these situations.

The ‘Brexit’ and agriculture

This is the biggie.

Last week at the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) the Defra secretary Liz Truss admitted that if the UK were to leave the EU there was currently no plan for agriculture. (Read her speech here)

With news this week that the Rural Payments Agency will fail to meet their target of paying 82-85% of claimants by the end of January, there are questions as to whether the government would manage agriculture any better than the EU currently does.

Opinion amongst farmers is mixed between hope for a more independent agricultural policy, and the view that the EU provides us with many markets, and it may be ‘better the devil you know’.

For a short video showing some personal views from farmers and industry spokespeople, see: fwi.co.uk/eu-exit-video

Bird ‘flu

A cull of 40,000 birds is underway at Craigie’s Poultry Farm in Dunfermline after discovery of a ‘mild’ strain of the H5N1 avian influenza, quite distinct from the pathogenic strain found previously. Three other cases have been reported in the UK in the past 14 months.

EU legislation on on-farm antibiotics

Draft EU legislation will make it compulsory for the use of on-farm antibiotics to be recorded, in an effort to combat microbial resistance to antibiotics. It is hoped this will lead to a centralised system, with the same recording protocols used in all parts of the livestock sector.