Amendment 29

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 9th July 2020.

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Photo of The Duke of Wellington The Duke of Wellington Non-affiliated 8:00 pm, 9th July 2020

My Lords, I declare my agricultural interests as detailed in the register. Many amendments have been tabled to Clause 1 about the activities to which the Secretary of State can give financial assistance. I will speak to my Amendment 48, which seeks to increase certain payments that the Secretary of State is already, or will be, empowered to make. Farmers are currently paid for converting from traditional agriculture to an organic system. This is to compensate for the loss of production during the conversion period, which takes about three years. At the end of the conversion period, the farmer will then be certified and able to receive the premium price for the organic product.

However, the current level of conversion payments is clearly insufficient. According to the Government’s own figures, published on 28 May this year, the area of land in the United Kingdom farmed organically has fallen by 34% in the last 12 years. According to figures published recently by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, for the last 10 years the area of land farmed organically has increased by 200% in France, by 60% in Germany, by 76% in Italy and by 69% in Spain. In the UK in the same 10 years, it has fallen by 36%.

In this country, only 27% of land is farmed organically. This is in marked contrast to the average in the member states of the European Union of about 7%, and in Germany and Spain of over 9%. If one believes, as I do, that it is in the public interest for farmers to use fewer pesticides, fewer herbicides and fewer agrochemicals, it must surely be a public good to increase the area of land farmed organically.

The Minister may say that increased payments may be part of the new environmental land management schemes, but these do not begin until 2024. While the basic payments to farmers are being progressively reduced over the next few years, would it not be a public good to pay public money to farmers to convert to organic farming? Sales of organic food in the United Kingdom now represent only about 1.5% of all food sales. This compares with about 5% in France and Germany and just under 10% in Switzerland, so it may also be a public good to pay public money to encourage the increase of sales of organic food for the general health of the nation.

I therefore ask the Minister if he will accept this amendment to increase in the Bill from 2021 the conversion payments for organic farming, as I believe he already has the power to do. I wish the Government would commit themselves, among their other greening objectives, to vastly increasing the percentage of land farmed organically.