Farming organisations have joined forces to urge the Environment Agency (EA) to rethink proposed new environmental permit charge increases for the intensive pig and poultry sector.
The NPA said the proposed charge hikes are ‘unjustified and unfair’, after the EU published a consultation on its Strategic Review of Charges. It proposes that that permit variation fees will increase from £380 to between approximately £2,400 and £7,000, depending upon the degree of variation. In addition new application fees could rise from £3,750 to around £8,000.
The NFU, NPA, British Poultry Council (BPC) and British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) are warning that a doubling of application fees and a significant uplift in variation fees would cause huge concern for pig and poultry farmers, at a time when businesses are already making significant investments in order to improve competitiveness.
In a letter to EA chief executive Sir James Bevan, the four farming organisations say the significant unbudgeted costs will discourage farm businesses from adopting new technologies, curbing plans for modernisation and investment in improved environmental practices.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies challenged the EA’s justification for the increases, which appear to be driven by its internal processes.
“We are extremely concerned at the proposed charge increases, which we believe are unjustified, unfair and will cause unnecessary damage to pig farmers who have done nothing to deserve this,” she said.
“In fact, the pig sector has invested heavily over the years to address the concerns covered by environmental permits, making it easier for the EA to do its job. That this is how we are repaid is utterly unacceptable and we are asking in the strongest terms for the EA to think again.
“We are not satisfied with the reasons provided to justify the charges and believe that there is a lot more the EA could do internally to improve its processes and reduce its own costs, rather than passing its inefficiencies onto the pig sector.
“If these charge increases go ahead, it will not only hamper pig farmers, who have come under huge financial pressure over the years, to invest in meeting challenges like environmental pollution, but will erode confidence in the Environment Agency, itself.”
NFU poultry board chairman Duncan Priestner said: “These changes raise very serious concerns for our industry and we would urge the EA to reconsider.
“Farm businesses are incredibly innovative and are often early adopters of new technology – this sharp increase in costs levelled on businesses by the EA could seriously curtail these advancements.
“These proposed changes could see many pig and poultry businesses take a step back from innovating to ensure they can deal with inflated administrative costs.
‘’In return for additional cost we are receiving nothing extra in return. This money would be far better spent invested in the business for the benefit of the environment. The proposed fee increases are inequitable and unjustified – a view that we will be conveying strongly to the Environment Agency.”
BPC chief executive, Richard Griffiths said: “Respecting our environment is a fundamental part of British poultry meat production. Our farmers have a strong track record of acting responsibly and working alongside regulators to prevent pollution incidents, responding to them, tackling the root cause of the problem and promoting good practice.
“We are calling on the Environment Agency to acknowledge our contribution to food production that respects the environment and reconsider the proposed changes to the environmental permit charge.”
Mark Williams, chief executive of the BEIC, added: “The proposals will hinder future innovation in food production and environmental technologies in the egg industry. We recognise and take seriously our duty to protect the environment as our track record demonstrates. We achieve this whilst producing a highly nutritious and affordable food for UK consumers. These extraordinary increases in charges will compromise this.”
Neil Davies, EA director of regulated services, said: “The proposed changes will mean that businesses pay for the full services they use rather than the public. This is more financially-sustainable, will lead to a better service to businesses and long-term improvements to the environment.
“We have been engaging with trade associations over the last year while we were developing these proposals. Their input into this process has been really valuable and I urge them to take part in the consultation.”