Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580
WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002
580. Have you measured any variance in terms
of environmental keenness between those who continue to receive
production subsidies as against the sectors that have traditionally
not received any support: pigs, poultry and horticulture? Do production
subsidies actually, either when they are there or when they have
been taken away, make a difference to people's attitudes towards
(Ms Swales) I think there is an issue about what we
have in terms of our current agri-environment programme. Because
there have been limited resources, schemes have not been developed
largely for those sectors, pigs and poultry, and dairy is the
one that comes to mind where the schemes are not really well suited
or they have not been designed to be attractive to those farmers.
It is clear that if you come up with a well-designed scheme with
a logical set of payments that is not too complicated or bureaucratic,
then again there is an appetite for farmers to go for those schemes.
I would suggest that in the future pigs and poultry farmers may
well be interested in looking at what they can do for the environment.
We need to draw a distinction between environmental protectionand
I am thinking of issues like water pollution, air quality, et
ceteraand the problems we tend to associate with those
very intensive sectors. On an issue such as delivering biodiveristy,
if you are looking at broiler units or intensive pig units, there
is not a great deal that we can do directly to benefit biodiversity
but certainly we should be concerned about issues of pollution
and water quality and air quality. There is a balance there between
how far we regulate those industries and we apply environmental
standards to them, environmental standards applied across the
industry, and the extent to which we give positive incentives
to promote landscape management and delivery of biodiversity,
(Mr Barrett) I would add to that. There is a little
issue about how much you are trying to put money, as it were,
directly into the pockets of farmers and to what extent you are
trying to create a situation where they are the beneficiaries
of a changed rural environment. There is a good case to be made
that farmers would be the downstream beneficiary of improved landscape
and greater access to that landscape. By creating countryside
that people want to visit and walk in, climb in, canoe in, cycle
in, whatever it might be, that is creating elements of thriving
rural economy. A well-advised farmer is going to be in a position
to exploit that situation.
581. In the RSPB paper you refer to the idea
that there would be market support payments in extreme situations
where the market was adverse. The difficulty with this is how
do you apply that because you could always argue, unless these
palpably clear markets are doing well, that there are always going
to be some sectors that are doing less well. I wonder if that
will be for WTO or are we going to have to renegotiate with WTO?
(Ms Swales) I think we make it clear in our submission
that we are obviously not talking about routine management of
market prices but recognise that there are adverse conditions
at times and that we would take the broad market price as the
benchmark essentially for the way in which trade should take place,
but there may be times when, for various reasonsfloods,
drought, whateverthere are really difficult circumstances
which farmers face. There is already a precedent, if you need
some help in those situation. There are various routes to doing
that. One of those we suggest is insurance or trade in derivatives.
I think I am right in saying that those sorts of approaches have
been applied in America where they are much more geared up to
insuring their farming industry against adverse conditions. It
seems to us that those are the sorts of things we might consider
in a UK context but we clearly obviously should get away from
the routine management of market prices.
582. We want to do that in this inquiry.
(Mr Wynne) Just as a rejoinder on the issue as to
whether that would be done by WTO, at the moment, in the light
of what has happened to farming, that would be impossible to resist,
provided it was carefully constructed.
583. Both of you point to a lot of other users
of the countryside than just the mundane growing of food intensively.
The RSPB says the countryside should provide safe, healthy, affordable
food. That is done pretty intensively. You add: "enhance
wildlife, support diverse and attractive landscapes, and contribute
to a thriving rural economy". The Ramblers support recreational
use of the countryside. Are you suggesting that subsidies to agriculture
are justified only if that delivers benefits other than food,
such as the ones you outline?
(Mr Barrett) At its simplest, I suppose, as long as
public money is involved, there is a legitimate expectation that
that is going to deliver public good. Of course we need food,
and nobody would dispute that, but the notion of direct payments
for agricultural production does not seem to have worked particularly
well. There is a strong case for redirecting that towards environmental,
social and recreational objectives. The problem at the moment
seems to be that it is productivity only primarily that is encouraged
rather than wide, good practice in farming methods.
584. How would that work? Would that mean subsidies
for allowing access or what?
(Mr Barrett) Subsidies for allowing access? We do
not pay the subsidies for allowing access per se, but money
from management of access, management of wildlife habitats, whatever,
is something that is possible.
585. How about the other provisions? You seem
more sympathetic to subsidies. You do want the outright abolition
of price support but you say there is a good case for emergency
aid measures to protect agriculture. You do believe that public
financial support for agriculture is justified. On what basis
is that so?
(Mr Wynne) We have not had an argument well expressed
to us, to be honest, nor did we during the hearings of the current
commission, as to why food production per se needs subsidising.
In answer to your question, we cannot see why public subsidies
would be needed for the promotion of food production but farmers
are the backbone of the countryside; farmers are the actors who
will see that the countryside is managed. If they are delivering
public goods as a result of that, which we believe they already
are and they are capable of delivering a higher level of public
goods, then it seems entirely reasonable to us that the public
should be paying more to do that. It gets to be quite a pained
dispute or discussion as to what the public should have a right
to expect from an industry by way of its environmental performance
and that which it should be prepared to pay for incentivised reward.
We can explore this in depth. I do not think there is a hard and
fast point between the two. What we can do is define the environmental
quality of the countryside we expect, both in terms, if you like,
of the hard parameters of water pollution, soil loss, prevention
of flood waters, et cetera, and the slightly softer values in
terms of landscape, amenity and biodiversity, and then we can
sort out what is a practical way to encourage their members to
deliver that suite of benefits. I think quite a lot of that at
present will need public support and payment.
586. That is what the subsidies should go to,
rather than just production of food?
(Mr Wynne) Absolutely.
587. What role would you see British agriculture
playing in supplying the UK market with food?
(Mr Wynne) An important role; it seems to us that
if you remove the subsidies from food, not in one immediate hit
but over time, there is ample ability and capacity within the
industry to adapt to provide food for the British market, and
I would hope for export as well. The change, and this is grossly
simplifying it, would seem to me to be that, rather than simply
concentrating on almost uniform production of commodities at low
prices, there needs to be segmentation and differentiation in
production of commodities to hit different markets at different
values. If we look at any other economic sector within the UK,
and indeed within the developed world, that is what we have done.
We are not producing bulk commodities at the lowest price in any
other sector. Surely the future of British agriculture is to get
out of that trap. Some people will presumably continue there because
they have the right soil types, the right climatic conditions
and right scale of operation to be able to do that. Others will
have to find new markets and we believe that they are capable
and adapted to do that.
588. To compete, surely they are going to have
to be more intensive?
(Mr Wynne) "Intensive" is a word which is
often thrown back at environmentalists and is slightly over-used.
589. You are pretty critical of intensive farming
but to compete on a world market, farming is going to have to
be more intensive.
(Mr Wynne) It depends on the nature of the product
that is being produced. It depends on the value that is being
sought to be added during the production. Some sectors of British
agriculture, in all likelihood, are going to stay very intensive.
I think for others, by going into specialist commodities, aiming
at specialist markets and seeking added value, the traditional
use of the term "intensive" would not necessarily apply.
590. Would you envisage subsidies where there
is a showing of environmental purpose but it is not profitablehill
farming, for instance?
(Mr Wynne) As I said right at the beginning, I think
there is a spectrum here from farming which is going to be pretty
efficient by most normal market standards but which is going to
receive an additional reward for managing the environmentand
that is the low level entry into the broad and shallow schemethrough
to those parts of the UK where food and fibre will be produced
but I suspect almost as a byproduct; it will not be the principal
economic commodity. Managing the land for the nation as a whole
could become the principal commodity. The money could be earned
through a mixture of open market and public rewardthe market
reward through leisure, tourism, recreation, et cetera, and public
reward through public payments for delivering particularly high
level environmental goods.
591. I am going to ask both of you what research
you have undertaken on what the public wants out of agriculture.
(Mr Wynne) I will make a broad statement and my two
colleagues have some specifics. I think the starting point goes
back to this issue, first of all, of stopping the external costs
for the rest of society which current agricultural systems are
causing. These have been costed by the Environment Agency in some
places, by English Nature, and I am sure the Committee will be
very familiar with the work of Jules Pretty who brought this altogether.
That has come under some criticism, but as an order of magnitude
of the kinds of external, identifiable costs out there, presumably
the starting point is to change policies so that those costs which
are identifiable and fall on the rest of society are not encouraged.
There is then a trickier issue of attributing a value to some
of these public goods, such as landscape, amenity, wildlife, beauty
of the countryside. They are indeed hard to pin down but quite
a lot of survey work has been done and Vicki will give you a couple
(Ms Swales) In terms of what the public want and what
the public value, RSPB commissioned some market research earlier
this year in January which was a representative sample across
GB and 70 per cent of the great British public said they valued
the countryside for providing places for wildlife to live; 71
per cent said they wanted attractive landscapes. By comparison,
33 per cent of the public said they valued the countryside as
a source of food. So I think that is quite interesting. Obviously
you can take what you will from this kind of market research.
592. Those are just general aspirations, are
they not? Is it saying that they will go there and see these advantages
or will they drive or walk there and what do they want out of
it personally, not general aspirations?
(Ms Swales) In a sense I think you can see that people
are voting with their feet. If you look at Countryside Agency
figures for the numbers of people visiting the countryside, or
work done in the south-west looking at why people went to those
places and very high on their list was the landscape and the general
amenity of those places. I think the public is, in a sense, voting
with its feet for what it wants and foot and mouth, in a sense,
demonstrated that very clearly.
(Mr Barrett) We have some research to throw in and
we have done it directly in answer to your question. My starting
point has been that public access to a well looked after countryside
is a public good, providing the scope for the primary rural economy.
There are many figures that support that. The Curry Report has
reference to 1.25 billion day trips to the countryside. The Ramblers
Association commissioned a report before foot and mouth in fact:
The Economic Value of Walking in Rural Wales. I have a copy here.
It directly says that walking in Wales has created about 5,000
jobs directly as a result of walking activities alone and £132
million was spent. It goes on to say that walking opportunities
in the Welsh countryside can create a job at a public cost of
about £433, in contrast to a job in agriculture which costs
about £4,000 to create. I do not quite know what you mean
by public good but that sounds quite good to me. The other side
of that, and this is more anecdotal via our membership and magazines,
is that people seek out the countryside, the nice parts of the
countryside, for health and spiritual benefits. Those again are
public "goods". It is all around that area, if you accept
the fact that a well-enhanced, protected environment is going
to draw people into the countryside, that economic benefits are
there to be exploited by farmers.
593. If one accepts that farmers are the backbone
of the countryside and indeed its architects, good or ill, do
you accept that profitable agriculture is an essential precondition
of anything else that you are proposing? There has to be a means
for farmers to make some money somewhere in this process to retain
them. The second aspect of this is: do you actually feel that
we have the people within agriculture who are able to both to
make it profitable and exploit some of the opportunities that
you are identifying?
(Mr Wynne) Yes, we do accept that farming has to be
profitable, otherwise no one is going to do it. Our subsidiary
to that, before you put yours, would be: if that profitability
comes at the expense of the environment and the countryside, then
that is a contradiction in terms. We would argue that the current
route to promoting profitable agriculture through production subsidies
is actually a self-defeating end and not very profitable. We would
rather find alternative ways of paying public money to help keep
farming profitable and it is going to have to be a combination
of best return of the market and best return from the public sector.
594. The RSPB has done an analysis to indicate
over time by species the decline in bird numbers. Pick a species
and tell me how many more birds I am going to get for every extra
pound which is diverted from subsidised agriculture to buying
(Mr Wynne) Probably the cheapest birds you will get,
if this is a numbers game, would be those birds of the hedgerow
and copse and better management therefore of field boundaries,
which costs the farmer very little indeed by way of productivity.
This is hedgerow biodiversity and not just birds coming relatively
cheaply. I am not going to put an amount on it. I am happy to
send you some figures we have from our stewardship scheme which
is very cheap, and the cirl bunting work we have done in the south-west.
We can provide the economics of that if that is of interest. It
will be from that through to other birds which are much more expensive
to deliver and other biodiversity is much more expensive to deliver.
Interestingly, I would suggest again, and this refers to an earlier
point I made, that the highest biodiversity values are quite often,
not universally but quite often, overlapping the lowest productivity
values of the farmland. Therefore, we ought to be able to design
the schemes so that the farmer is rewarded most for delivering
the highest measure of biodiversity, where in any case he is going
to be least competitive on a straight farming basis.
595. I certainly accept that we could not trouble
your organisations which enjoy huge respect for what you do. Nevertheless,
it is a phrase that has a lot of currency at the moment. You say
in answer to the question about your research that 75 per cent
of people want to see an attractive landscape. I have paraphrased
what you said. It could not be expected that 75 per cent of people
wanted to see an unattractive landscape, surely? Your questions
must have been more complex than that, although your answer gave
the impression it was a single dimension question. Would you like
to illuminate that a bit for us?
(Ms Swales) You are quite right that the research
asked a series of questions and, in a sense, was trying to get
a priority from people. You are right that people would not say
they wanted an unattractive countryside. It was to get a sense
of their priorities, if you will, for what they do want from the
countryside. They were asked a long list of questions about landscapes,
wildlife, places for recreation as a source of food, providing
jobs, rural housing, et cetera. In a sense we were trying to get
the priority. What came out of that was that those aspects, wildlife
and landscape, came out extremely highly compared to other priorities
into which people might wish government to put public money. That
was what we were trying to get.
596. I would have expected that from your membership.
(Ms Swales) This was not our membership. It was a
national GB survey.
597. I merely make the point that if people
are also asked if they would like cheap food, which we know they
do for everything, I suppose more than 75 per cent of people might
have said the same thing. This is the problem with this kind of
statistic, although it is clearly genuine and I know from my own
constituency that is what people would say, although it is an
agricultural decision. There is a real tension, is there not,
between the kind of information generally put out by your organisations
and really the overall economic questions of not just what happens
to agriculture but the impact that that will have on the economy
as a whole. It is so difficult. Your statistics are absolutely
genuine but where you put them is a bit simplistic.
(Mr Wynne) We would be the first to acknowledge that
the valuation of the environment is not easy. I never want to
pretend otherwise. Could I slightly perhaps cheekily suggest that
the public was never asked whether it wanted to subsidise a system
which produced 120 million pounds of pesticide clean-up costs
in their water.
598. That is a very fair point.
(Mr Wynne) What we have tried to do is illuminate
some of the values the public do put on the environment. As I
have said before, the difficult area is the soft aspects. There
is a very large clutch of hard environmental issues which have
been costed in terms of their external impact on society, which
come to several billions of pounds, however you cost them, and
assuming the first step is to structure a policy and a system
of incentives to farming which at lease decreases that level of
external costs which are hard and measurable.
Mrs Shephard: Please push those arguments because
it helps inform the debate.
599. The recurring theme throughout much of
our discussion is this need to shift from food production but
we must maintain our countryside, we must preserve our countryside.
I want to know why, in terms of habitat, wildlife and access for
walking or rambling. We cleared the shrubland and we cleared the
forest and encroached into wetlands and moorlands. Why do we need
to keep it as it is? Why could we not let some of it go back as
it was? I question the idea that farmers are the custodians and
we must pay them for this wonderful patchwork, which you can only
see from an aeroplane. Why not let some of it go back as it was?
It did not look like that before.
(Mr Wynne) Certainly in terms of the wildlife, part
of the wildlife that the north-western European population has
come to value is associated with the farming landscape. As we
are talking about asking people to pay to some extent to conserve
what is there, I suspect one would be wise to take note of that.
If the question is "does all of the landscape need to be
farmed?", I think I agree with you that the answer is "no".
One option is to take the least productive part of the countryside
and effectively take that out of farming. Even there, it is quite
likely that there would be herbivores, grazing animals of some
kind. It might look a bit like farming but effectively you could
take that out. I think it would be a comparatively small part
of the countryside to which you might do that. That seems to me
an entirely legitimate option.