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.
Little doubt that small upland hill farming provides ten times the wildlife that timber and tourism provides and in any case small upland hill farms provide the scenery tourists want.mile after mile of conifers attract not one person.
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