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.

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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.