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:

I am a pest management expert by background. I studied how to tackle pests on farms, but obviously my background is about looking at all aspects of farming—the integration of health, farming, environmental and social goals. That is what I have always worked on, and I see the Bill as an opportunity to do that. That is why I was saying that I was quite emotional, because I think the Bill could do that. It is a shame when it is put in a polarised way. A lot of statements from farming groups such as the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, the Nature Friendly Farming Network and LEAF were very positive about the direction of travel represented in the Bill.

It would be great if you could go and visit these things. I went to a three-day festival called Groundswell in Hertfordshire, and there were a load of farmers there doing things very differently. They are not just tweaking the system; they are genuinely looking at how they can reduce soil erosion and enhance biodiversity on farms through the farm system. That is the kind of system we need to be supporting. We should understand that it is the future, because it is building in carbon into the soil and ensuring biodiversity benefits for the farm.

That is the kind of thing that this farm Bill—it is a farm Bill—should do. As Tom Lancaster said on Tuesday, most of the rest of the Bill relates to farming. One of the crucial elements of it is the fair dealing part. I have said that it needs to be strengthened, but it is great that it is there. The new statutory contracts are absolutely vital to ensure farmers get a fair deal, and the transparency is vital to ensure they understand how they can get a fair deal in the marketplace.

The big gap, which I forgot to mention when you asked for gaps, Mr Drew, is the trade deals and agrifood imports element. Most stakeholders are in complete agreement that we need to be able to control the import of agrifood produce that is coming in at lower standards. I am sure you have covered that elsewhere. We have got a clause, which we are all promoting, that is saying that. I do not know whether that is out of order or not. That is an essential gap, and it makes a difference to farmers. It is another farming-relevant part of the Bill that we would like to see. Sorry, I went slightly off-topic there.