How to deliver real public good from a new farm policy

One undisputed benefit of the Brexit vote is the ability to rip up the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) model and start all over again.
Let’s not get too hung up on the money. The current EU regime pays UK farmers about £3bn a year and, while this funding is guaranteed until 2020, there was never a great deal of credibility in Brexiteers claims’ claims this amount will be sustained – or even increased – under post-2020 domestic farm policies.
Fat chance. But this is almost secondary anyway to how the new policy can be made to work more effectively – for everyone.
The current area payment system has provided vital funding for many good UK farmers, undoubtedly keeping some afloat.
But it is a blunt instrument, the proverbial ‘dogs breakfast’ cobbled together between 28 member states and the big EU institutions intent on pleasing everybody – but satisfying no-one.
It is a policy that cannot differentiate between those who need it and those who blatantly do not – like the billionaire subsidy recipients, including wealthy Newmarket racehorse owner and the Aberdeen ‘slipper farmer’ who pocketed nearly £3m, who hit the headlines this week.
The payments act as barriers to new entrants and are accompanied by some of the most convoluted and incomprehensible environmental rules imaginable – that deliver nothing for the environment.
Could do better? Couldn’t do worse really.
The broad principles of Defra approach to formulating the new policy, for England at least, are already broadly laid out. It is, indeed, an ‘open book’, a ‘clean sheet of paper’, a ‘fresh start’ and so on but whatever ideas are put forward must be underpinned by the principle of delivering public goods.
So, one line of thinking within Defra is, if any sort of area payment was to be maintained, payments could be graded depending on membership of various certified schemes, such as Red Tractor, Freedom Food, LEAF and organic.
Another avenue being explored of particular interest to the pig sector is the feasibility of setting aside a big chunk of whatever funding is available in the form of match-funded grants to be paid in schemes that deliver public goods.
This week we cover two stories – the drive to reduce antibiotic use on farms and the options beyond farrowing crates – with something in common.
Both cover goals can only realistically be achieved through considerable farmer investment. In a largely unsupported sector operating in buildings, on average 22-years-old because of a chronic lack of cash flow and confidence, it asking a lot, too much, to expect the industry to do it on its own.
That is why industry calls for a post-Brexit farm policy to include these types of grant help achieve mutual aims – improving the health of our livestock and moving to better conditions for sows – should be taken seriously. The ‘public goods case’ is made.
The Government is in ‘listening mode’, we are told. I suspect it will be hearing quite a lot more on this one.

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.