Examination of Witnesses

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 25th October 2018.

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David Baldock:

I had the pleasure of producing, with colleagues, a study for the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural DevelopmentDG AGRI—in the Commission in 2010 on what public goods in agriculture were. It took two years, it was a highly political operation, and we had agricultural economists all over Europe working on it. It is not easy, but intrepid Members might want to look at it.

One of the things we learned was that we must have clear objectives and be clear about what public goods are. They are, by and large, above the regulatory baseline. It is not just about trees and hedges; it is to do with the whole resource base for agriculture and land management. We must be clear about what payments mean. They provide farmers with opportunity costs, as well as other costs. Farmers often perceive public goods as a very unprofitable sideline. Actually, they are much more to do with the holistic management of the farm and the resources beneath it. Maintaining your resources in the long term is important for public good provision.

If you want farmers to take this seriously, they need to know that there is money behind it. Perhaps we can come back to that. They need to know that this is a long-term policy direction, not just a short-term measure. Otherwise, it is difficult for them to have confidence in it.

You need some means of measuring the outcome. Clearly, that involves having a monitoring process and some confidence about the indicators you are talking about. At the end of the day, public goods need to be visible and understandable to people. They are just shorthand for policy makers; we need to make the benefits clear to the whole world.