Agriculture Bill

Written evidence submitted by Shaun Leavey OBE FRAgS ( AB23 )

HOUSE OF COMMONS PUBLIC BILL COMMITTEE: SUBMISSION ON AGRICULTURE BILL.

I am Shaun Leavey OBE FRAgS . I worked on a large Suffolk farm after leaving the army. In 1970 I establish ed , and subsequently manage d , a breeding herd of pedigree cattle air-freighted out to Greece , and later set up a large feedlot system for my Greek employer . In 1971 I left Greece to join the staff of the National Farmers’ Union.

I was a Regional Director (for SE England) from 1989 to 2004. Retiring at 60 I was appointed chairman of defra’s Sustainable Farming & Food Board for the South East.

I was also contracted by the SE Regional Development Agency to manage a series of land use projects (precision farming technology, optimum water usage in glasshouses, biomass heating systems, better land use by equines, and on-farm anaerobic digestion research along with many others).

In recent years I have been the farming adviser to Dorset CPRE. My OBE was awarded for services to agriculture and horticulture.

This submission reflects my own personal views and does not seek to represent the views of any organisation with which I am associated.

Summary of submission:

1. Risk of reduced profitability of English farms and horticultural businesses when in direct competition with EU farms benefitting from CAP . Need for the proposed arrangement within the Bill to include monitoring of comparative support available within the EU .

2. Danger of crucial trials of ELMS being conducted primarily in areas covered by an existing land designation (NPAs, AONBs etc).

3. Concern that food self-sufficiency will be sublimated to a policy of food security without adequate appreciation of the strategic risks such a policy entails.

4. Need to safeguard current food standards when in the future England (and the UK) trade more widely in food products.

I have four main concerns about the Bill:

1. Competitiveness of English farmers and growers : I welcome the requirement for Ministers to consider the need to encourage the production of food in England . However t he physical proximity of England to the continent means that our f armers and growers will always be operating in direct competition wit h their counterparts in the EU. Therefore any significant diminution of their commercial competiveness vis a vis farmers within the EU (who will continue to be assisted by CAP payments) will put them at a n increasingly serious financial disadvantage in particular after 2028 . In my view t he Bill fails to recognise that . It also fails to acknowledge the implications for domestic food production that will develop as a result of a ny significant shortfall in support funding compared to that available to our competitors who will still be operating within the CAP . Some mechanism for assessing the differential between the funding of English farmers and their EU counterparts (and taking action as appropriate) would seem a prudent measure.

2. Environmental Land Management Schemes : The trialling of ELMS is very important. However I am extremely concerned that - for what would seem to be bureaucratic simplicity - such trials appear to be based in areas of the country where there are structures (such as NPAs and AONBs) related to existing land designations. In the past this has all too often been the way in which Countryside Stewardship funding has been allocated – in my view primarily to simplify the bureaucracy of dealing with it. For the ELMS trials to be effective they need to also take place in several areas that fall outside the current hierarchy of land designations. These are often neglected parts of the countryside (in terms of preferential funding) such as the Blackmore Vale in Dorset. They are also I suspect places where it will be more difficult to apply the "public goods" criterion on which future funding will be based. That is all the more reason for including them in the trials.

3. "Food Security" : Reference is made within the Bill to a requirement to report on food security at least once every five years . For many years there has been a debate within defra about the merits of policies based on food security as against food self-sufficiency. Determining what constitutes "food security" tends to be a somewhat subjective process. It involves judgements about the political and economic situation in other countries that export food to the UK. Self-sufficiency in temperate foodstuffs is a far more strategically sound criterion for judging whether the country will avoid food shortages. Least this appears a specious argument for policies that favour domestic food production I would remind the Public Bill Committee that in 1974 there was a dramatic shortage of sugar. The longstanding Commonwealth Sugar Agreement with the Caribbean countries broke down as they sought to exploit the more lucrative US market. T here were queues outside shops, some stores rationed the amount that could be purchased, and there was a predictable media frenzy. Ministers were eventually able to negotiate for EEC sugar supplies (from beet sugar stocks ) but the situation was a salutary reminder of how vulnerable presumptions about food security can be to world events. England cannot be entirely self-sufficient in food, but excessive reliance on supplies from abroad to meet some notional concept of food security runs the risk of finding that suddenly such " security of supply " no longer exists.

4. Sustaining current food standards: The Bill appears to lack any commitment to restrict imports of food products from future global sources that fall below the standards achieved within England at the present time. Failure to impose such restrictions creates risk s to both human and animal health , and enables producers abroad to undercut the prices achieved by farmers and growers within England ( and the UK ) who continue to maintain higher standards.

 

February 2020

 

Prepared 25th February 2020