Common Agricultural Policy — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:30 pm on 18th November 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat 12:30 pm, 18th November 2010

My Lords, I declare an interest as the half-owner of a 40-hectare vineyard for which we do not receive any subsidies. I am very grateful to my noble friend for not only bringing this debate before us but his broad-brush approach. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, for reminding us of some of the history, especially given his insight into it.

I want to concentrate my remarks on why I believe that the greening of the CAP is not just an option, but an absolute necessity. There should be a mandatory greening component of direct payments right across Europe. That is essential because the CAP is supposed to enable us to move towards a future with food security, but all the threats to that security lie in four areas: soil; water; plant and animal diversity, and hence resilience of species; and pollinators.

We need area-based payments that recognise the urgent need for land management that can serve and build on the ability of land to continue producing food-not just in 10 or 20 years' time, but in 100 years. I shall talk first about soil. Historically, soil management was maintained by techniques such as crop rotation and using manure, which allowed soils to regenerate naturally. I was disturbed at the call by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, for farms to grow larger and larger and be more monocrop-based, because I believe that to be one reason why we have such difficulty with our soils. Over time, technological advances such as artificial fertilisers and huge compacting farm machinery have allowed production on poor-quality or degraded soils. That approach, as Defra now recognises in its soil strategy, published last year, is no longer sustainable in the long term-not only because the cost of inorganic fertilisers has increased steeply but because our soil is washing straight off the land into streams and rivers at an alarming rate. Can the Minister provide the latest estimate of soil loss in this country?

As I have said, Defra has made a good start with its soil strategy, but there is an awful lot more that the CAP could do to underpin the cross-compliance approach. We are in the very early stage of this. Under the entry-level scheme, a farmer has to do his own assessment of his soil and say what he is going to do to solve the problem. He receives a 52-page soil protection review assessment form, which states:

"Please note that you do not have to return your completed SPR"- the form-

"to ... Defra. You must keep your completed SPR on farm. You will be asked to show this to an Inspector on an inspection".

The difficulty with that approach is that it leaves very much in the air Defra's assessment of what is happening on each farm, but, worse, it does not provide the urgency that is needed for new thinking and training for farmers to put into practice essential soil management techniques.

I turn to the issue of water. Of course, the CAP is not designed to address any of this, but nevertheless, catchment management-now recognised as being essential to the quality of our water-is all about land management. The truth is that land management equals water management. Without a certainty of water supply, food production will not be possible. Intensive irrigation has led to very poor soil, and the issues of soil and water are so intertwined that they must be addressed equally.

When you consider climate change and you discover that UK soils contain 10 billion tonnes of carbon-more than all the trees in the forests of Europe and equivalent to 50 times the UK's current annual greenhouse gas emissions-you realise that well managed soils have the potential to sequester more carbon than we can imagine. However, much more needs to be done to understand and optimise this process. The CAP needs to be linked into the EU's efforts on climate change. We cannot regard it as being simply for food production, when the land itself will be such a key element in our fight against climate change. Of course, climate change will drastically affect our ability to produce food.

I do not believe that there is much time to get round to the enormity of the changes needed, and the CAP needs to be designed to lead to agri-ecology, as opposed to agri-industry.