Examination of Witnesses

Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:27 am on 11th February 2020.

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Jack Ward, Caroline Drummond, ffinlo Costain and Martin Lines gave evidence.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 9:30 am, 11th February 2020

Q We will now hear oral evidence from the Nature Friendly Farming Network, Farmwel, Linking Environment and Farming, and the British Growers Association. Starting with Jack Ward, could you all very briefly introduce yourselves?

Jack Ward:

My name is Jack Ward, and I am the chief executive of the British Growers Association, which predominantly operates in the fresh produce sector—fresh fruit and fresh vegetables.

Caroline Drummond:

I am Caroline Drummond, the chief executive of LEAF—Linking Environment and Farming—a farming environment charity promoting more sustainable agriculture and a whole-farm approach, with demonstration farms, the LEAF marque and a public outreach area. I am also married to a dairy farmer.

ffinlo Costain:

I am ffinlo Costain, the chief executive of Farmwel, which was established to develop a really positive outlook on reform of the common agricultural policy post Brexit. We work very closely with the FAI—Food Animal Initiative—farm in Oxford, which is one of the world’s largest food sustainability consultancies.

Martin Lines:

I am Martin Lines, an arable farmer from Cambridgeshire. I am the UK chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network. We have farm membership across the UK, as well as public membership and organisations that support the network.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

May I say to our witnesses, if you have never previously appeared before a Committee, that there is nothing at all to be worried about? My colleagues are very friendly. They are just trying to get information from you to use during the Committee stage of our proceedings. The session ends at 10.30 am, so it will go very quickly.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q I want to start by asking what you consider to have been the main failures and limitations of the existing direct payment scheme, the common agricultural policy. Also, what are the main opportunities for your own particular interests, based on a new policy that rewards farmers for the delivery of public goods?

ffinlo Costain:

One of the key challenges with the common agricultural policy is that it has largely rewarded farmers for owning land, and it has presided over an enormous disconnect between farmers, other people in the countryside, and customers, and often the supply chain as well. The huge advantage of the new legislation is that, in changing the funding system to public funds for public goods, we will be able to deliver the changes that we need—the farm animal welfare improvements, the sustainability improvements, the climate mitigation, and the biodiversity restoration, which has been so degraded under the common agricultural policy.

Make no bones about it: we are facing a climate and nature emergency that is upon us now, not tomorrow. It is critical that we get this right. For me, getting land use right is the golden ticket. Having the opportunity at this time to reform land use—so that we can continue producing good food and good nutrition, delivering national security in that way, which is critically important, as well as delivering climate mitigation, land adaption to help with climate change, and biodiversity restoration—is absolutely critical. The Bill comes at the perfect time, and it is well set up. There are some challenges within it, and some issues that I think we will address, but in general terms it is very positive.

Martin Lines:

As a farm owner and a tenant, under the current system, with the single farm payment, I am encouraged to farm to the very edge of fields. Biodiversity and other bits of the landscape are not rewarded. As a tenant, my landlord takes away most if not all of my single farm payment on top of the rent. If we move to a public goods model, I actually get rewarded for the delivery of services as a land manager—as a farmer—so we would move into a system that better supports actual farmers, rather than the ownership and management of the landscape.

Caroline Drummond:

One of the real challenges of the past system was the capability to drive ambition for farmers. It was a “Tell me what I’m doing” type of approach, so going forward, we have a real opportunity to demonstrate leadership, vision and ambition for our farming sector. Ensuring that we get the right governance is going to be really important. There needs to be partnership and development of trust between Governments, from voluntary approaches that are externally, independently verified such as farm assurance schemes, right through to building on some of the success stories of capability and innovation that we have seen among some of the farmers who are already thriving and doing very well in this country.

Jack Ward:

The fresh produce industry has not benefited that greatly from the CAP. We are about 170,000 hectares; we have an output of about £2 billion from that area, and the contribution from the basic payment scheme is about £40 million. However, the contribution from the producer organisation scheme, which is broadly equivalent, has been incredibly important. I think we would like to see that continue in some shape or form.

In terms of opportunities, there is a terrific opportunity to increase the amount of fruit and veg that we currently produce. In some sectors, such as tomatoes, we are very dependent on imports. We import eight out of 10 tomatoes that we consume in the UK; we must be able to do better than that.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

GoodQ morning to you; it is very nice to see a farmer from Cambridgeshire here. The opening comments from the witnesses have been very positive and helpful, and I think we all welcome the notion of public money being spent on environmental gain. However, a number of us are concerned about the lack of detail in the Bill about environmental land management schemes. I think we had expected a policy paper from the Government, but I am not sure we have seen that yet. Do you share that concern?

ffinlo Costain:

It is really important for Government to set a framework, but if there is a criticism of the way that Europe and the common agricultural policy have worked in the past, it is that it has been way too prescriptive. That has meant that, to a large extent, farmers have learned to do what they are told, rather than to properly understand and integrate what they are doing on their land.

My own view is that Government should become more goal-centred. They need to set the right metrics and to understand what outcomes they are trying to achieve, but then they need to take a step back and allow farmers to farm. Farmers understand their land, and if they have a funding model that supports environmental excellence and other public goods—restoration of soil health and so on—they can work out ways to do that. I would hate to see a situation where there is a continuing prescriptive approach, but it is focused on the environment rather than on how to produce cattle, and we end up with farmers still not really understanding what they are doing and simply farming the subsidy.

We need ownership of change, and farmers can do that. Farmers understand their land; they know their land, and if we give them the freedom to work within that public goods model, they will deliver the outcomes. They will step up. They are a standing army out there, ready to do this, and they will step up and do it.

Martin Lines:

I have concerns about what the ELM for England would look like, the transition period, and how the funding is going to work. We need more detail about what the future will be, so that the farmers can start changing and adapting now to the model of what is coming. There is some concern, particularly about the transition period. As we go into the new system and payments under the current system tail off, what is going to bridge the lull in the middle, and how do we get farmers to step across to the new system at speed?

Caroline Drummond:

I agree. There needs to be the policy documentation, so we can identify what this is going to look like and how the knitting all joins up—there are lots of balls of wool, but what are we trying to knit at the end of the day? Not much has been left out of the Bill, which is really key, but we need to know how it will be interpreted and how the ELMS projects will be carried out. There are a lot of them going on, and we need to know how they will be brought together to demonstrate the delivery against metrics, outcomes and, ultimately, impact. Ultimately, the Government have to deliver against the global and national targets around the sustainable development goals, the Paris agreement, and so on, but the farming sector has the opportunity to support us in demonstrating that we are helping on issues around climate change, biodiversity, soil improvement and those matters.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Before bringing in Danny Kruger, I should have told new Members that, when they start questioning—they do not have to do it every time—they should declare any financial interest they have in these areas.

Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Conservative, Devizes

Certainly, I do not have any financial interests in the business of farmingQ . Martin, I was interested in your point about the way that, under the direct payments system, the landlord gets the benefit, not the tenant. Is that just your experience, or can you amplify that point and explain more how that works? Are you confident that that will not be replicated under the new regime? Does the Bill give you confidence that the tenants will get the benefits from public money for public goods?

Martin Lines:

For many of the tenancies, the price per hectare per area went up, compared with the payment, so they see that as a benefit of owning the land. Many landlords get the payment directly and the farmer has to manage, which disconnects the reward from managing the landscape, so the current system does not benefit the farmer. It challenges cash flow, because as a tenant I am paying rent for six to 12 months before I get it back under the payments system, so there a problem with cash flow, particularly with late payments. There is a big issue with the new system about payment timings. There are huge challenges under the new system.

Under the current system, we know that some landlords are trying to get the stewardship payment, or parts of it, but under the new system, if you are delivering habitat, or pollen and nectar, bits and pieces, you are the farmer doing the work. You should be getting the reward. There will be an increase in capital, and the landlord will be rewarded for capital aspects and other things that are delivered on the landscape.

The Bill should be about encouraging the whole-farm approach of better farm land management and looking at all aspects, not just food production—pollination, flood mitigation, soil health improvement and public access. The farmer’s role is not just about food production; it is about providing goods and services. The definition of a farmer is someone who manages land to deliver goods and services. One of those is food, but many other things can be delivered, and if we move the system, we can be rewarded for those and create a better system.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Do you think the Bill does enough to encourage the whole-farm approach, or is there a danger that farmers might just pick and choose among the public goods and do some of the things that are easier, but carry on farming as normal on the rest of the farmQ ?

ffinlo Costain:

I think you are quite right about the key concern that I and other colleagues I have spoken with have. There has to be a whole-farm approach. If public goods are being delivered, it has to be a combination of public goods and we need baseline assessments supporting that around carbon and biodiversity that are whole-farm. From our perspective, it would be horrible if we go through all this work and have all this ambition but end up with a sparing approach, where we have one bit of land put off for sequestration with Sitka spruce, creating the various challenges that that does, another bit for rewilding, and another bit for ever-more intensive food production. It is critically important that we face the challenges of the whole-farm approach. The best and most efficient way to make progress is for every hectare, as far as possible, to deliver good, nutritious food, climate mitigation and adaptation, and biodiversity restoration. A whole-farm approach is absolutely critical, and we would welcome an amendment that crystallises that and makes it clearer in the Bill.

Martin Lines:

The only concern is with those who do not engage in the system and choose not to take public goods money. How are they going to be legislated for against the minimum standards?

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Q Do you mean the baseline regulations?

Martin Lines:

Under the current system we have cross-compliance. With those who choose not to engage in the system, because they want to push for productivity, how is the system going to legislate for and regulate the basic standards? Who is going to be the policeman for the countryside, to raise standards and make sure they are enforced? We have seen many problems already with soil health degradation and other environmental issues that are not being addressed.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Q As I understand it, at the moment, farmers will get the basic payments for just having the land. If you check cross-compliance and they are not meeting the standards, they will be penalised. Are you saying that if you have a public goods approach, and people get rewarded only for the good stuff they do, there is not a way of penalising them or holding them to account if they are not meeting standards?

Martin Lines:

We are not sure who is going to be holding them to account or what kind of standards there are. Nor do we know how those who choose not to engage in the system will be held to account, because you cannot withhold a payment if they are not receiving a public goods payment. We need to make sure that that standards system is in place.

Caroline Drummond:

I think there are some nuances, in terms of the “mays” and the “musts”—there should be a bit more “must” in some areas. Whole-farm approaches are absolutely critical. I have been an advocate of the whole-farm approach for the last 30 years, and I think it is absolutely key to making sure that soil management, climate change mitigation and biodiversity, and indeed landscape and cluster-type approaches, are driven in. That is where the ELMS projects will be really vital. A lot of their design is based around land management plans, which I imagine will be whole-farm. A lot of the third tier is proposed to be around cluster groups and landscape scale-type approaches. It goes back to this question of farmers choosing not to be engaged at all, how do we account for that? How do we really drive and match the ELMS within the ambition of the Bill?

Jack Ward:

While there is a lot of focus on public money for public goods, making sure that UK agriculture is inherently profitable is hugely important, because no amount of public funding is going to supplement an overall lack of profitability. If in five years’ time we have an inherently unprofitable farming industry for whatever reason, I just do not think there is going to be enough public funding available to make good that shortfall. Alongside public money for public goods, we really have to ensure that basic agriculture can wash its face.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Mr Costain, and then we really must move on.

ffinlo Costain:

The issue of eligibility for public funds is really critical. What Wales is planning is interesting. It is planning that there will be a requirement for baseline assessments on carbon and biodiversity before farmers are even eligible for the public goods payment. That will take place annually to continue that eligibility. That is a really positive approach, and it is important. Whole-farm, getting the eligibility, making sure of that baseline and continued monitoring of metrics are critical.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

I declare an interest: I am a farmer in North Yorkshire, where we have been since 1850, and a member of the National Farmers Union and the Country Land Q and Business Association. The question I want to ask is whether you think the Bill will do enough to enable us to get the balance right and reward people for what they are doing already—I am thinking particularly of some of the upland farmers on the North Yorkshire moors and in the very marginal parts of our country. Most people probably take the view that they should keep doing exactly what they are doing, because that is exactly what we want. The flip side of that is incentivising other farmers, perhaps in the east of the country, on some of our more intensively farmed areas, to do more green things. Do you feel that there is enough in the Bill to reassure those who are in those upland areas who are concerned because the subsidies are basically what are keeping them on the land, and the others—the Beeswax Dyson Farmings of this world—who can dance to the tune that the Minister is playing? I think Caroline might be the best person to start.

Caroline Drummond:

I am not too sure. It is interesting that there is a lot about livestock production in here, but a lot of that level of detail will have to come through the policy support, because upland farmers are under a huge amount of pressure. There are discussions around the meat challenges of Veganuary and climate change mitigation, but we should look at what they offer in terms of tourism and capability to manage. For those very sensitive land areas, right through to some of the high-value peat areas, I think there will be the need to get some really good ELM projects to better understand how we can support those farmers. Exeter University is doing a lot of work in this area at the moment to find out how those farmers, as Jack just said, can actually make a profit at the end of the day. There are a lot of social services, public goods, environmental goods, tourism and additionalities that these farmers offer on incredibly tight margins.

Martin Lines:

I think there will be movement with payments. As an arable farmer in Cambridgeshire on a large field system, the productivity of my landscape is really good. Most years it is quite a good, profitable system. If you are in the marginal areas—the uplands, in the west country where there is a smaller field-scale system—the public goods should be rewarding you more. I will probably receive less public goods money, but that will be moved, hopefully, across to the uplands and those cherished areas that cannot deliver more productivity, but need to be supported to deliver the public goods and with the landscape delivery stuff. It should be swings and roundabouts, but it should be fair. The detail is not in there and we need to see that transition. It is going to be about the journey if we move from one to the other and give farmers confidence about the future.

ffinlo Costain:

I understand your point, Mr Goodwill. There is one farmer we work with in Northumberland with 1,000-odd acres on a sheep farm. When we have run the metrics of looking at his carbon footprint with GWP*—global warming potential “star”—the new accurate way of accounting for methane, which is very different from the way methane was accounted for 18 months ago and was recognised in the Committee on Climate Change land report just a couple of weeks ago, his farm impact is less than the average household of four, which is astonishing. We want to make sure that farm continues to get the funding as well.

We have proposed in the past that an acreage basis for that continuing maintenance of excellence could be a way to go because we need to make sure—exactly as I think you are saying—that we do not just restore biodiversity, we do not just mitigate climate change, but we hold and maintain that excellence afterwards. I hope that, within public goods applications, farmers will be able to make the case that they are continuing to deliver excellence. All farms can be better managed. We never achieve sustainability; it is a journey. However, if farmers can make the case that they are delivering public goods and continuing to deliver that—I would like to hear from Ministers on that—I hope they will continue to be eligible.

Jack Ward:

From the fresh produce industry, in terms of sector, I think there is a lot of interest in what the ELMS might offer. Just coming back to the earlier question: until we see the detail it is difficult to make a judgment.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is very encouraging to hear your enthusiasm for improving the standards of the producers you represent. How concerned are those folks about cheaper imports undercutting produce through trade deals that might be negotiated in the future? Would you like to see something preventing that in the Bill? Certainly, the farmers I speak to are increasingly concerned about thatQ .

Martin Lines:

If we do not have the rug taken from under our feet: we are told to produce to a standard, but if different standards are allowed to be imported, how can we compete? Our costs are different. If the standard is positive across the platform, we can compete. It may be a different price model, but we can compete with that standard. We should export our environmental footprint. We can bring in produce from around the world to the same standard, so other people’s standards can increase. There is huge risk because if we are told to produce goods to a standard, then yes, there needs to be something in the Bill or an assessment of the amount of stuff allowed in that is below our standards. We already allow in a lot of products below our standards. We are not allowed to use neonicotinoid treatments or genetically modified processes in the UK, but we import huge quantities. So there needs to be that sort of balance. I would struggle to say none, but there needs to be balance and fairness for the whole farming industry.

Caroline Drummond:

It would be fair to say they are extremely concerned, and I think the majority of farmers are very concerned about not undercutting the capability and the investment that they have made. We are very fortunate. We work with a lot of can-do farmers who have made a huge investment in making sure they reach the level of trying to be more sustainable; trying to ensure that welfare standards are meeting and going beyond the regulation; and driving for new innovation and ways of improving and doing things. As Martin has said, offshoring the environmental and animal welfare delivery and the learnings we have made from those practices that are just not acceptable—not only to our farmers but to our customers—is not good news. There is a double whammy because although many countries say they do not support their farmers, they do in many different ways. That will be through investments and free advice. You just have to go on to the United States Department of Agriculture website to see the substantial amount of money that is going to support marketing, drainage schemes, flood alleviation, irrigation and so on. We need to be very careful. There is that second hit of not only importing produce that potentially does not meet the standards or requirements of our farmers, but in addition to that is also being supported through different ways.

Jack Ward:

In the fresh produce industry, we already import from about 90 countries, so there is a fair degree of free trade within fresh produce. I think the areas that would concern our growers are particularly around production systems that would be unlawful in the UK. That is particularly around crop protection and labour welfare standards. Those are two very key areas for the sector.

ffinlo Costain:

I think it is terribly important, exactly as everybody else has said, but there are two sides to this particular coin. I understand, hear and welcome what Ministers have said repeatedly, that standards will not be lowered and that trade deals will not allow that to happen but, in terms of farmer and public confidence, it needs to be written in the Bill. I think it is really important that it is there.

I think that partly because of the impact that it could have on food, but also because of the impact it has on the industry that grows up around excellence: the marketing, the branding, the new technology, which Britain can become excellent and fantastic in. Associated with that—the other side of it—is what does brand GB look like? What are we exporting?

The opportunity here is to get something right in Britain, to do something excellent in terms of food production and the environment, and to export that knowledge and those brands and that technology around the world. When I look at Ireland, with Origin Green, it is the only example that exists of a national scheme of metrics. In Ireland, it is only around carbon; it does not yet incorporate GWP*, so it is flawed. It does not include biodiversity.

There is an opportunity for Britain when we get the metrics right, when we are collecting these at a national level, which also, by the way, means that we can better inform policy making in future, that this can underpin the British brand. If we allow food in that is undercutting our standards, it undermines our brand. It not only undermines our farmers, but the industry as a whole.

Caroline Drummond:

We operate a global standard with LEAF marque; 40% of UK fruit and veg is LEAF marque certified. The fresh produce and the farmers that we work with on a global scale are meeting the same requirements demanded of our farmers in this country.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

We are now halfway through the evidence session. I have lots of colleagues who want to ask questions and I want to ensure that they are all called.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines Conservative, Derbyshire Dales

I refer Members to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests for my interest as a very small farmer. I have a question for Mr Lines. You mentioned that tenants should get the payment. Can I ask you two things? Are you advocating a change in business farm tenancy arrangements and land tenure? Or are you really saying that money from the Government should go to the person who physically farms, rather than the landowner, or a mixture of both? Would you please clarifyQ ?

Martin Lines:

It would be a mixture of both. Many of the tenancies that are currently written are too short, with many of three to five years, because of the uncertainty ahead. They would be rewritten and reframed. The person doing the job— the work, the delivery of those public goods—should receive the income.

If it is about land, natural capital and something infrastructure-wise of trees, the landowner may get some of that. If it is about the delivery of habitat and flood mitigation, so that you are losing crop yield or change of land use, the tenant can manage some of that. It will be a redefining, but I think the industry will cope with it. We just need the timeframe for how we deliver it.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

Q I would like to return to the vexed issue of imports to potentially lower standards. ffinlo, you mentioned some of the potential impacts. I would like everyone to comment on the potential environmental impact, given that people are so positive about the potential here. If we do find ourselves being undercut by lower-standard imports, what would be the effect on the environmental aims in the Bill?

Caroline Drummond:

I think potentially farmers will walk away from supporting them ultimately, if the marketplace is not delivering against the requirements expected of the imported produce and farmers are increasingly required to deliver against goods that are costing them from a business perspective. That is one of the big dangers. A bigger issue is offshoring, and the fact that we have nine years to deliver against the sustainable development goals. We have the Paris agreements. We have a fantastic opportunity with the conference of the parties talks on climate change being held in this country later this year to herald our ambitions for delivering and demonstrating leadership in environmental delivery and in climate change mitigation delivery.

We might think we can compete on a global level in terms of a huge productivity market, but actually we are just small producers on a global scale. Our real opportunity lies in being the best at what we do. We already have such a good background: despite all the criticism that farmers get for delivering or not delivering against the environment, they have been hugely committed since 2001, after foot and mouth, through entry level stewardship and higher level stewardship agreements, to deliver vast changes and improvements, with strong ownership in how farmers are farming in this country. It would be a real shame to lose that. The Bill is an opportunity to build on that backbone and to place our farmers in a position whereby we continue to be world leading, but with more focused ambition and strong clarity on what we deliver from an environmental perspective.

Jack Ward:

In terms of delivering environmental outcomes, we are looking at a balance between a farmer or grower’s own investment and public money. If you start to cut away at the farmer’s ability to invest as an individual, you lose an important part of the funding that will deliver the overall environmental improvements that you are looking for.

ffinlo Costain:

I think the future for UK farmers has to be in quality. Volume production will increasingly become a mug’s game. I would not advise farmers to go into it. It should be about environmental excellence, animal welfare excellence and sustainability excellence. The danger is that if it comes into the country, some customers—perhaps quite a lot of customers—will buy it. That is where the undermining happens: it undermines our ability to develop that comprehensive basis for environmental excellence, and it will challenge emerging supply chains in particular. Part of our big challenge over the next 10 years is to shorten supply chains and to make sure that farmers are better able to claim decent farm-gate prices by selling direct or through many fewer cogs before they reach the customer. I worry about those smaller and emerging supply chains being undermined.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton

How do you assess that the security of food supply will be improved by the Bill? What do you see as the UK’s greatest threat to food security?

Martin Lines:

Food security can only come from healthy soil and a healthy environment. If we over-produce from our soils, we degrade them and there will be no food security for future generations. We need a balance of how we manage our landscape and how much we can produce from that balanced landscape. We can then consider what products we need to import, and whether we need to do other things or change diets or change tjhe system. There needs to be an assessment of how our landscape looks, with a joined-up approach to landscape productivity.

ffinlo Costain:

Traditionally, food security has been about volume and about being able to feed everybody. That has led us to the challenges we now face, which Martin just referred to. Food security comes from being able to produce good, nutritious, diverse and seasonally available food. That means we need to restore soil, have good water management, and good community dynamics, with complexity returned to our swards and landscapes where nature works with farmers to produce that food.

Looking forward 40 years to how society could break down as a result of climate change and biodiversity loss, food is the critical factor. If you look around the world at conflicts, including Syria, food is the critical factor that creates conflict. The way that we deliver national security is not by producing volume, but by ensuring that every hectare of our land can produce really good food, and by maintaining the rural economies and the ability of farmers to farm that land. That is why it is critical that we do not go down the route of sequestration here, wilding there, and food here. We need to be able to build broad diversity so that we have national food security in the future.

Caroline Drummond:

There is often a lot of confusion around food security. There is the issue of our capability to grow, and having the infrastructure to support farmers with seed, fertiliser, tractor tyres, and investment in that area. There is the issue of what we actually mean by self-sufficiency, how we build our targets, and whether we are ambitious enough. There is food safety. We have some concerns about imported produce in terms of food safety challenges. That has been well heralded. There is also the issue of food defence—our capability to trade confidently, and to have the opportunity to receive food where we do not have self-sufficiency or sufficient produce.

It is a highly complex area. I think it is one area in the Bill where we would report every five years. Perhaps that could be amended to reporting every year, because it is so important.

Jack Ward:

In the fresh produce industry, we are very dependent on imports to meet our needs. Arguably, it is the one area of food production where we want to increase consumption. Ultimately, the ability to increase our food security is down to grower confidence, and a willingness by growers to keep investing, and the returns that they can generate from that activity. The last six months have not done great things for grower confidence.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

Q I would like to go back to the question of food security, and to some of the points that people have made. I am very concerned by some of what I am hearing, because it seems to me that there is a danger of a two-tier system emerging. A very high-quality, high-value system is, to ffinlo’s point, not about chasing volume. Is there not a potential problem ahead for us if we are not careful, in that we will not produce nearly as much of our own food as we would like? Going back to my earlier question, that also has environmental consequences. It goes back to a point that I think Jack made at the beginning: the sector needs to be profitable to keep people working. Is there a real danger here?

Martin Lines:

If I am producing wheat, I can increase my yield by putting more products on, but that has a higher environmental risk, because a lot of those nitrates and products will leave the soil, because the crop has not used them in some years. If we hit the sweet spot with the productivity of our landscape, we can produce what the landscape can cope with, and push it some years, when needed, as well as ease off. It is about finding the balance point. We know from many livestock farmers that reducing livestock numbers actually makes them healthier, better animals, and they produce quicker because there are fewer there and the grass is better.

We have focused for so long just on yield and output, not profitability. Reducing my overall output gives me more profit at the end of the day. It is a funny way to look at how it works, but you end up spending more than you get in return. You chase the extra yield by spending more money. We need to find the place where we deliver as much as we can. Sometimes we can push that if we need to—if there are weather challenges, or other issues—but we should not be out there just to push it, doing environmental damage as a consequence of my farming operations.

ffinlo Costain:

The most intensive food systems are environmentally damaging. They are damaging in terms of farm animal welfare, and often just in terms of the jobs that are provided for people, which are not pleasant. The death knell needs to be rung for those sorts of farms.

There is an assumption that with environmental excellence, because of our association with going from mainstream to organic, comes a reduction in yield. There does not need to be a reduction. There are so many examples, here and around the world—Martin being one—of regenerative agriculture, which is giving environmental excellence and social excellence. Farm animal welfare is not an issue on his farm, but elsewhere there are regenerative beef and cattle systems where yield is being maintained in terms of mainstream amounts, and even increased.

There is an assumption that high environmental standards mean a reduction in yield; that is not necessarily the case. It is not just about looking at volume; it is about looking at a whole range of different changes. We need a dietary shift in Britain. That does not mean no meat and dairy, but it probably does mean a bit less meat and dairy as we go forward, and a bit more fruit and vegetables. We can deliver that, with agroforestry approaches and regenerative approaches. We can more than sufficiently provide food for the people of this country—I have no doubt about that—but it will mean changes in diet, and a little bit of change in the way that we farm, at the same time as focusing on multiple outcomes, rather than simply the outcome of producing lots of food. It is food, climate and biodiversity.

Caroline Drummond:

We have a tremendous amount of evidence and case studies to demonstrate the importance of integrated farm management practices and how farmers have increasingly adopted them, in terms of economic viability, good performance and optimising the capability of the land. That is a really strong driver. One of the big keys will be how we link the Agriculture Bill with the Environment Bill and the national food strategy—this is such an opportunity for really trying to work out what it is that we want to develop and to balance and to build in what we grow, how we grow it and how we improve the health of our nation as well.

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Conservative, Ynys Môn

My question relates to employment numbers in the farming sector. Will we see people entering the sector that otherwise would not, as a result of the Bill? What will we see in terms of demographics, and what will we see in terms of the skillset of people working in the sectorQ ?

ffinlo Costain:

My hope is that we would see growth in all of those areas. In order to have farming excellence we need to have working farms. In the future, there may be fewer farmers spending their days on tractors, but there will be more farmers doing more high-value jobs and more marketing within the countryside. If we look at cattle and shortening supply chains, we ought to be supporting—we can through the Bill—new infrastructure, such as local abattoirs and co-operatively owned abattoirs. That creates new jobs and infrastructure within the countryside, which can then be sold with the marketing and branding jobs that go along with that. I want to see good-quality jobs, not just jobs, and there is the opportunity here, if we get it right, to create good-quality jobs, and more of them.

Caroline Drummond:

Maybe I missed it, but I do not know whether the Bill itself would be the driver for more people to say, “Yay, I want to go into agriculture.” There is an opportunity to go into agriculture, with exciting innovations and technology, and the fact that we touch each of the five senses, which no other industry does. We do a lot of education programmes at LEAF. We run Open Farm Sunday. From that point of view, it is about getting more people more connected with their food. Some of the supporting information around things like the national food strategy and the 25-year environment plan have to help to support and drive enthusiasm—have to help to inspire a younger generation to recognise that the food sector, the farming sector and its associated industries are really fantastic. We have fewer young people coming through and we just have to compete a little bit harder than every other industry.

Jack Ward:

There will be more competition for labour, and trying to attract people into the industry will be more difficult. Certainly, within our sector there will be a big drive towards automation to take labour out of the equation, because it will be harder to come by. As earlier speakers have alluded to, as a consequence we will see higher-value jobs. We will see more technologists and more people designing and managing systems, rather than doing some of the manual work that we have seen them do over the past 25 years.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

We have 15 minutes left and at least five colleagues want to ask questions. I call Kerry McCarthy.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Q May I just ask about the climate change angle? The NFU has said that it wants to reach net zero farming by 2040. There is no target in the Bill. My concern is that farmers do not really have a road map for reaching that target—we are relying on individual farmers to perhaps pick up on the public good element that is mentioned. Could the Bill be stronger in terms of the net zero commitment?

ffinlo Costain:

The first thing that needs to happen is that the metrics need to be right. At the moment, the Government are still wedded to GWP100—global warming potential over 100 years—which is focused on emissions, rather than warming from emissions. That is critical, because it really changes the role of cattle and sheep.

Oxford Martin brought out science by Professor Myles Allen, who was an author on the IPCC’s 1.5° C report. We now have an accurate metric for accounting for methane, and it changes things. By and large, the warming impact of cattle and sheep farms will be about 75% down in terms of methane. If we focus on emissions, it drives very different actions. If we focus on warming, we see that cattle and sheep on grazing land that is really well managed, ideally in a regenerative way, can contribute to the climate mitigation, climate adaptation and biodiversity that we are all talking about.

Before we start talking about hard targets, we need to make sure that those metrics are there, because at the moment, farmers are being undermined because they do not trust the metrics. That is critical. The Government clearly have ambitions and goals for net zero elsewhere. Farmers are working towards their own goals. We are working with farmers in Northumberland who control most of the national park there. They are committed to net zero by 2030. We can deliver it rapidly when we get the metrics right.

Photo of Fay Jones Fay Jones Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

It is not a financial interest, but I should declare an interest as a former employee of the National Farmers Union. What does the Bill do for the regulatory environment in the United Kingdom? What is your assessment of how the Bill will affect that? Are you concerned about the risk of any regulatory divergence between the devolved nationsQ ?

Martin Lines:

Yes, there is a risk. It is not clear how that regulatory authority and the baseline will work, who will police it, and how that will be transferred across the four nations. If you are farming either side of a border, will you have two different standards? How will you compete with those together?

A lot of what is in the Bill is focused on England. We are waiting for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to develop their plans. It is about how we link it together, not race away with just England, because if you are farming both sides of the border, move from one side to the other, or move products from one side to the other, you will have real complications. We do not see that journey of who is going to manage that regulatory authority and baseline.

Jack Ward:

If I may chip in on producer organisations, it would be helpful if we could have commonality within producer organisations, and not have one system in Scotland, another in Northern Ireland and another in England.

ffinlo Costain:

This touches on non-regression from EU rules, which is really important. I would feel more comfortable if it were stated that there was going to be non-regression on standards.

Regulations are a safety net; they are there so that nobody goes below them. I want farmers to go above them, to tell customers about how they are going above them and delivering, and to brand around that. Theoretically, it should not be an issue, if farmers are going above, stepping beyond, managing to deliver what Kerry was talking about with net zero at an earlier stage, and telling customers about that. The fact that there is a safety net there, and that there may be a bit of divergence between different nations, is less important than the fact that people are going beyond it and they are making money because they are telling customers about it and customers are buying it.

Caroline Drummond:

Ultimately, there is the opportunity to create a new governance, in terms of how the Government work with the industry and non-governmental organisations through to farmers and landowners. Some of the reporting that came out of Dame Glenys Stacey’s report demonstrated that there may be new ways for us to make it move forwards effectively.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Labour, Erith and Thamesmead

The main clause of the Bill provides Ministers with the power to make payments to farmers, which is most likely to be allocated on the basis of environmental improvements, not how land is farmed. The Bill does not give any clear guidance on how environmental improvements will be measured. Do you have any thoughts on thatQ ?

Caroline Drummond:

Potentially, that all goes back to the metrics, and what we are looking to ultimately deliver. The Environment Bill has set out some of the requirements in that area, although that obviously goes beyond farming as well. The 25-year environment plan also covers that area. We have seen, through things like the sustainable development goals and all our global commitments, that there are some really good opportunities to align our ambition here in the UK with delivering against some of those areas. It all depends on how ELMS are going to be managed and developed, but this is where some good environmental performance metrics and targets are starting to come through—hopefully from some of the targets that farmers are setting and working with Government on in a particular area.

ffinlo Costain:

There are two aspects to your question. The first is what those measures are. As many Members here and Ministers know, we have been working very closely with Government, particularly on the farm animal welfare metrics and how those relate to the environment. That is critical; what those metrics are is really important, and Government needs to start collecting those.

Then there is the question of the mechanisms—who collects those metrics, and how. From that perspective, Government could work much more closely with assurance schemes to make sure that the metrics that they are collecting are good proxies for what Government wants, and that the new metrics that the Government are looking at are then embedded within those assurance schemes, so that assurance schemes that are already going on farm can do that metrics collection. Then farmers can sign to say that they are happy for some of those metrics to be self-reported. For example, RSPCA Assured may be collecting 500 metrics, perhaps in terms of pigs or sheep, but Government does not want all of those. There are perhaps 15 key ones that Government wants, and farmers need to tick a box to say that they are happy for those to be self-reported, perhaps through the assurance schemes. So there is what the metrics are, and the mechanisms for collection.

Caroline Drummond:

We have already earned recognition with the Environment Agency, Red Tractor and LEAF Marque, in terms of helping support that relationship.

Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Conservative, Stafford

I represent a rural constituency with a lot of dairy and arable, and some of the biggest fruit producers in the west midlands. Quite a lot of farmers have said to me that they are currently enrolled in things like countryside stewardship schemes, and they are going to transition over. Caroline, you mentioned the ELMS scheme. Does this Bill do enough to help them transition over to the new schemes? Are we doing enough to support farmers in the longer term? For example, I have people signing county farm tenancy agreements, which are for 10 years, but we have guaranteed payment for only five years over this parliamentary term. Are we doing enough to support them in the longer termQ ?

Martin Lines:

We need guaranteed long-term funding or the ambition to deliver it. On a five-year rolling plan, I am planning eight or 10-year rotations in farm planning. If you are taking on tenancies for longer than that, the business risk is huge. It is about that long-term development. In the transition that we are going to have from one system to the other, we need to be clear and transparent about how that will fit and how we can move. It has become clearer that if we can enter into a stewardship agreement now, we will be able to move into the ELMS when it becomes available, before the end of the period. It is about how we are flexible within those schemes. The current system has been delayed payments, with a nightmare bureaucracy. It has over-measured and over-regulated, and there has been no trust in the farmer to deliver. We need to build that into the new scheme, and build trust with farmers to work to that system.

ffinlo Costain:

Countryside stewardship has been very input-focused. Often farmers have done something because there is a box to tick—because they are getting paid for x, rather than because it necessarily delivers the outcome. I think that is what Martin was alluding to. It is not the most successful scheme. There is this five-year transition, where the basic payments are going out. In that time, it is for farmers to step up and understand how to deliver these outcomes, and to develop, either individually or across landscapes, proposals that deliver those public goods. So long as we are focused on outcomes rather than inputs, we will make progress. Farmers should be absolutely at the forefront of that.

Caroline Drummond:

A little bit more security and clarity in the timescale is really important. Obviously, farmers do not make decisions today for tomorrow; many decisions are made three or four years in advance. Many crops are grown for nine or 10 months—for livestock, it is a longer time span—before you get any level of return. That timescale is at the moment not 100% clear, because decisions could be made at the very last minute. That is a big concern.

We must not forget that although a lot of the stewardship has not been ideal, for every pound that farmers get from support mechanisms they are delivering so much more from an environmental perspective, because it is good for their business and because, obviously, they fundamentally believe it. We do need to build confidence that the system will work, and that farmers really want to adopt it. We are involved in some of the trials for the ELMS project, and it is really encouraging to see farmers very much embracing it and saying, “Yeah, we want to be involved.”

ffinlo Costain:

I said earlier that land use—the way we farm—is the golden ticket for getting us out of the challenges we face and continuing to support food production. I want to give you a couple of statistics. Funding for agriculture is £3.1 billion, but that is tiny in terms of Government expenditure. For every citizen in Britain, we are paying less than £1 per week to farmers for all the good work they do, which we have been talking about. Compare that with £42 per citizen per week for the NHS. Just administrating central Government is £3.57 a week per citizen, so farming is getting very little.

In terms of managing the transition and making sure that farmers can deliver, somebody has to say it: farmers should be getting more because they are doing such a good job. In the future we will be expecting so much more, and I would like the budget to increase.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

I want to come back to the point about bringing sustainable food production closer to people’s lives. What measures could be added to the Bill to encourage local community schemes to reduce food poverty and improve good nutritionQ ?

Jack Ward:

I think the two are largely unrelated. One is an income issue, and there is a separate farming issue. Conflating the two is a problem because the food we produce is often not leaving the farm at a sustainable price, and the opportunity to drive that price down is very limited.

Martin Lines:

We need clear transparency within the supply chains, and parts of the Bill address that. Who is getting the benefit out of the produce? Farmers are selling at a gate price that is way lower than the retail price, so who benefits? How can we join up the supply chains to shorten them and give farmers the opportunity to market more directly? There will be lots of exciting technologies and systems that may be able to do that, but it is about incentivising that opportunity.

ffinlo Costain:

I think you have highlighted a real challenge, and I am not quite sure how we address it within the Bill. We do not want to see farmers in Britain uniformly producing high-quality produce that just fuels middle-class meals and those of affluent people. We need to recognise that an awful lot of people live in poverty or relatively close to poverty, and we need to be able to feed those people as well. But I do not think that we do that just by continuing with the model that we currently have, which involves ever more intensive volume production and low-nutrition food. We need good food. That is about the supply chain. As Martin said, it is about how we connect people who are living in more disadvantaged areas, with food. Often, if you are buying directly—if you are buying food and making meals yourself—it is a hell of a lot cheaper than living on Pot Noodle or whatever else.

Caroline Drummond:

One of the scary facts is that 50.8% of the food we eat in this country is ultra-processed; in France, it is 14%. We do not know about the sustainability of highly processed food, and we often do not know its country of origin. This is where the national food strategy is such a core part of trying to understand what our ambition is for the health and the connection of what we grow. It is out of kilter at the moment and in a very difficult place.

Going back to Jack’s comment, the Bill is about trying to drive the ambition for a highly productive, responsible and sustainable farming system. We need to be very careful. There is often confusion. Poverty is a social issue, rather than necessarily an issue that farmers can respond to, and we need to be very careful that, as an industry, we are not subsidising the social challenge of poverty.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

Q Perhaps I was being confusing by mentioning two things in my question. What can the Bill do to encourage local community food schemes to tackle food poverty and improve good nutrition?

ffinlo Costain:

Funding of infrastructure, which is partly in the Bill. It is perhaps about broadening the definition of “infrastructure”. In the same way that people ought to be able to apply for funding to put up the local abattoir that will make a big difference to the farmers, the land that they are presenting, the prices that they are getting and their ability to sell directly to the public locally, you are perhaps right to say that there needs to be support for those sorts of schemes as well.

Caroline Drummond:

Interestingly, food productivity is mentioned in here. One would hope that that is going to be the link in terms of trying to define what the national food strategy looks like, because—

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. I am afraid that brings us to the end of this session, but on behalf of the Committee, many thanks to our witnesses. You gave us invaluable information. Thank you very much indeed.