Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 320-339)



  320. Can I put to you the comments of Professor McInerney, two weeks ago today, who said that it was only possible to measure public demand for environmental goods "with great difficulty" and that "to do it for the mass of the UK countryside, I think is almost impossible." How can society assess whether or not what is being delivered is what indeed it wants?
  (Sir Donald Curry) I think it is difficult to answer that question in detail. But we do know that substantial external costs are being incurred at the present time to clean up the water, etc. We have to take that seriously. It is becoming a bigger issue in the eyes of, certainly, the environmental lobby and in the eyes of government, and we know from work that has been done within the existing schemes, the existing stewardship schemes, the existing examples of where good bio-diversity habitat management has taken place, that we can change trends. Over the last 10 years, with the introduction of a number of these schemes, the downward spiral of deterioration in environmental measurements has to some extent levelled out, certainly using a number of parameters. I believe that is a good indicator that sound environmental management and management of habitat can improve the current situation. So, recommending the introduction of this scheme widespread across the countryside in England we believe is a sound recommendation based on historical information.

  321. Would you believe that the British public would want to see high standards of animal husbandry and animal welfare in general terms? Should they not have had a reference in your report?
  (Sir Donald Curry) The British public is very sympathetic to animal welfare and in any bit of consumer research it comes through very strongly as an important issue so, yes, we need to deliver very good animal welfare standards and we recommend that the animal welfare standards within the assurance schemes should be re-visited and reviewed to ensure that we are delivering good animal welfare standards within our food supply chain.

Paddy Tipping

  322. In your broad and shallow scheme you say it is going to be widespread and apply to the majority of farmers. We talked about cereal growers earlier on in East Anglia. We also mentioned High Peaks. I know both areas well. On the environment there is a lot more to be gained in places like the High Peaks and upland areas. Why should we not be focusing resources on areas of real conservation and outstanding beauty rather than on, dare I say, the deserts of East Anglia?
  (Sir Donald Curry) Nothing in our Report actually prevents that from happening. First of all, we believe that every farmer has a responsibility to manage his farm in an environmentally friendly way and deliver environmental outcomes and create appropriate habitats. But within our recommendation we envisage a pyramid with the broad and shallow scheme at the bottom and a number of options within that pyramid that any farmer can opt to buy into and raise his environmental participation. For farmers in the High Peaks, they may want to move right up to the top of that league and participate in the elite schemes within the pyramid. It is there as a option and we believe that is the right approach.

  323. So the elite schemes, the outstanding athletes as we would say, depend on a pyramid, a hierarchy and a hierarchy dependent, I guess, as David Taylor was saying, on delivering the public goods, delivering environment for example and delivering access. I struggle with this notion of "public goods". I do not know what the public is to begin with and there are arguments about what the goods or the "goodies" to be produced might be. I know, for example, that the RSPB have got aspirations, the Woodland Trust have got aspirations, the Ramblers' Association have got aspirations around public goods. How do we define public goods? That is a tough question. An even tougher question is how do we measure public goods because the public goods are going to deliver an income into farmers' pockets?
  (Sir Donald Curry) Let me turn that around by saying that our view and our vision suggests that on-going support for the farming and food industry is much more secure and sustainable by delivering what we call public goods than continuing to subsidise production. We recognise that to deliver environmental outcomes, to maintain stone walls in the Peak District, to plant hedges and maintain hedges, to provide public access, and all of those things is in today's tough economic climate extremely difficult to finance from food production. And yet, these things are regarded as important, important from a visual point of view in the specific character of different areas of Britain. When the public visits on their holidays or weekends that is what they expect to see. They want to see walls standing upright, not flat on the ground. They want to see the character of individual areas maintained. It is for that reason we have gone down this route and also to deliver habitats and try and turn round some of the downward graphs on sky larks and other things. These things are important and in my own experience it is a very long time since I saw sky larks in our area and yet they used to be frequent. We cannot just dismiss the reduction in specific species as a consequence of modern agriculture. We really have to try and address the problem. We believe that that can run alongside and be very compatible with food production.

  324. I agree with all of that. I do not dismiss that at all. But I want skylarks, other people want stone walls, other people want access. How are we going to define what we are going to pay and how are we going to put in a system? It is a process question I am asking.
  (Sir Donald Curry) I understand that and you will recall that in the Report we have suggested that there now needs to be a discussion between all the stakeholders who have an interest in this area. That includes all the sector stakeholders you have mentioned, particularly practical farmers, from different areas with different farming systems to agree on the broad outlines of the scheme as it should apply in different farm situations. That discussion needs to take place very quickly.

  325. Involving the environmental groups?
  (Sir Donald Curry) Absolutely.

  326. I support that vision, I think it is the right way to go forward, but your Report tells us, and all my reading tells us that we are in a highly competitive sector. It is an international sector where things are going to get tougher and tougher. I do not think there is a painless solution. I think there is going to be more pain before things get better and I do not think the competitive edge or drivers are going to go away. You are recommending a more benign, more environmentally friendly, greener kind of agriculture. I do not say that is incompatible with the competitive pressures, but certainly there is a tension there and I think as a farmer and landowner one would want to have a profitable business and one would need to become more and more efficient. That may, as some of the history suggests, put the environment a bit on the back burner. That is quite a hard horse to ride, is it not?
  (Sir Donald Curry) We certainly envisage a greener farming industry, you are quite right, and we also identify very clearly in the Report that the competitive pressures are intense now. Little profit is being made, which is why we deliberately chose "Profit" as the title for our third chapter. Nothing happens without profit. Investment cannot take place, new entrants are not going to come in. Profit is fundamental, and the challenge for English farmers and food producers to compete in this intensively competitive international market-place is, as you quite rightly say, not going to go away, it can only ever get more intense, which is why we tried to identify the key components that we need in our industry to help us compete and the recommendation like the one that farmers need to collaborate much more than they have done historically. As I have said a number of times, this is not a new message. I have been preaching it myself for the past 20 years but we now have no choice actually. What may have sounded like a good piece of rhetoric now needs to happen and farmers have no alternative but to collaborate together, co-operate together and to integrate with food processing, and in the process to have available to them all the knowledge that they need in terms of benchmarks and in supply chain analysis to help them drive down costs. I am concerned that the take-out from this Report is "greening" everywhere without recognition that these recommendations in the Report are crucial to having a profitable farming and food processing sector. We are operating in the dark at the present time. Individual farmers do not know what their own costs of production are, never mind what benchmarks they should be measuring themselves against, and throughout the chain we need to use soundly-based information to drive our costs down, improve our efficiency and allow us to compete.

  327. And improve the profit.
  (Sir Donald Curry) Absolutely, at the same time.

Mr Jack

  328. In delivering these schemes on page 64 of the Report you talk about advice to farmers and you are offering them three days of advice from a local accredited adviser, then in the special offers section at the bottom of the page we are told that farmers should receive a £250 training credit annually. You go on to say it is essential that all farmers that want and need it receive some advice. How much is the three free days going to cost and how much is the £250 for three years going to cost, and who is going to pay it?
  (Sir Donald Curry) The cost of providing this advice—the three free days and the three years of £250 credit—were built into the figures which we provided Government and they are included in the £500 million figure which the whole package will cost. Do not ask me —

  329. Could you pack them out for us?
  (Sir Donald Curry) I am sorry I cannot, Michael, because I have not got the breakdown of those costs with me.

  Chairman: Could you let us have a breakdown of that £500 million, not now, on a piece of paper?

  Mr Jack: Yes is the answer we are seeking!


  330. May I formally request you to let us have a breakdown of the £500 million?
  (Sir Donald Curry) I will do my best but they were only ever calculated into blocks of funding to cover the broad area envisaged in our Report over a three-year period.

Mr Jack

  331. Can I just tease this out as you are going to be very helpful in this respect, I read out page 65 "we regard it as essential that all farmers..." Does that mean that pig farmers, poultry producers, horticulturalists, potato farmers, fruit farmers, hop producers are all going to be eligible for those goodies and in the context of modulation, because they do not receive any subsidy, is it the others, the "Peters" who are going to pay these "Pauls" for their participation in these schemes?
  (Sir Donald Curry) The funding for this is, as I said, built into the total package. We recommend that this advice service, the three days' free advice and the three years' advice, actually should start from next year. There is considerable up-front funding of this recommendation before modulation can kick in.

  332. So I am clear, £400 million has got to come from somewhere and £100 million comes from recycling via modulation, is that right?
  (Sir Donald Curry) The figure envisaged is £100 million a year over two years of recycled funds matched by another £100 million a year from the Treasury, but the new money is £500 million. So you will have an additional £100 million over two years.

  Mr Jack: Is that £300 million for all these other things?


  333. New money is defined as new money generated by the industry and by the Government's contribution?
  (Sir Donald Curry) No, the new money is new money provided by Government.

  334. I just wanted to be clear.
  (Sir Donald Curry) Considerable up-front funding is required before modulation can kick in in order to fund these recommendations.

Mr Jack

  335. I read out a list of people who do not get any subsidy.
  (Sir Donald Curry) They would benefit from this.

  336. So, in other words, the people who receive money are going to pay for the people who do not receive any?
  (Sir Donald Curry) No.

  337. No?
  (Sir Donald Curry) Because if every farmer wanted three days' free advice next year none of that would come from modulated funds because modulation would not have kicked in by then.

  Mr Jack: I appreciate that.

Mr Breed

  338. Just a quick one on profit. I think we all understand there is no profit in the farming industry to carry on many of the things. Do you believe that there is insufficient profit within the total food chain to fund that?
  (Sir Donald Curry) There is insufficient profit being generated at the moment within the farming and food processing and manufacturing sector in order to reinvest.

  339. The chain is a bit longer than that.
  (Sir Donald Curry) It is.

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