The NFU launched their "Fair Deal for English farmers" at their conference yesterday.
Although I was unable to attend the event, I hear NFU President, Peter Kendall, was on typically pugilistic form claiming that "every farmer was united in their hatred of modulation".
As I wrote here, it is no surprise that NFU and the CLA are opposed to moving funds away from direct farm support towards support for farming that delivers public goods such as an attractive countryside rich in wildlife.
Yet, given the pretty dismal CAP deal, there is no way Defra will be able to maintain its £1.8 billion of agri-environment commitments in England without modulation. As I have written previously, Environment Stewardship is not perfect and the entry-level scheme certainly should deliver more, but a reduction in funds could be disastrous for wildlife. The higher level scheme provides a lifeline to many species such as turtle dove, cirl bunting and marsh fritilary butterfly.
I appreciate that this is a pretty tough time for many farmers, but many farmers will lose out if there are big cuts to agri-environment. For example, these schemes currently consitute a third of income to many hill farmers. No modulation would essentially mean that those farmers would not be able to renew there schemes. And for hill farmers in higher level agri-environment schemes, they'd receive more money than the 15% of direct support payments that they would retain.
There is also a strange contradiction in the position statement where the NFU states that CAP greening measures should be diluted to the point of absolute ineffectiveness (points 1,3 & 4), and then argue that greening negates the need for modulation (point 6).
So, given this nonsense, it was reassuring to hear the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, stick to his guns and say that he did plan modulate to "support those things that the market cannot provide".
I'd go further. When it comes to recovering farmland wildlife, Defra has no plan B. It is almost entirely reliant on agri-environment funding. Failure to modulate would be like giving up on government ambitions in its Natural Environment White Paper.
There's a huge problem here for farmers and NFU: there is (hopefully) a real prospect that within the next few years the justification for this huge payment of taxpayers money will come into real question. Already our current take on farming is being undermined - EA have stood up to pressure to reverse its strategy of protecting people and homes first, farmland second. Farmers face the choice of a new deal recognising society's real needs & priorities - for which I strongly believe they should be paid - or charging on down the blind alley of more and more intensive food production. As petercrispin effectively points the real problem is that the biggest farmers - who seem to own NFU - are doing just fine - and will very soon (if not now) be able to compete in a world market where US diversion of grain to energy means prices will remain high - for them there is little to lose in hanging onto their £200/ ha pa for now.
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