Examination of Witnesses

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

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Vicki Hird:

That is a good point. My experience over the past few months, discussing this, is of an unnecessarily divided and polarised debate. Clause 1(1), done well and given the resources and infrastructure to deliver—it is absolutely essential to make sure we have adequate resources for training and advice for farmers that links to their business planning—could deliver a farm support scheme that does not separate out the two and that genuinely supports farmers for being farmers and for producing food or other products of the land or for doing agroforestry or forestry, and for doing that in a way that is sustainable. That really is the prize of the Bill, and it should be. It should be built into the new environmental land management scheme.

I am very keen to make sure that that scheme provides the tools for all farmers, not just those who are already doing these things and who are very clever at filling in forms. It must be available to small farmers as well as large farmers, it must be accessible, and it must facilitate farmers to work in cross-farm, landscape-scale, catchment-scale farming schemes, but it must actually be about farming.

The false dichotomy has probably been set up by the fact that there are two subsections where you could have merged the two. From our perspective, the alternative view is to make clause 1(2), which is about productivity, very much connected with clause 1(1), so that any payment for productivity does not undermine the outcomes from clause 1(1)—the public goods that you are also paying for. That would be clunky, but from our members’ perspective—and we have a broad membership—the feeling is that that could be an option.

The final point to mention is the de-linking payments. There is a real risk in terms of public acceptance of the de-linking payments if potentially very large sums of money are going to farmers for no outcome at all for the taxpayer. We can see the need for de-linking in some form, or for some tool to make the break between the old system and the new, but you could be getting something more out of that—I think you will probably hear about that a bit later—and be making sure that it actually delivers on new entrants or diversification or sustainable investment, so farmers can invest in machinery such as small robots, or new, truly welfare-friendly housing, and those kinds of things, and that it is actually directed towards those kinds of outcomes.

The dichotomy is false, and we should not be thinking of it like that, but I can see why it has happened.