Thursday, 15 July 2010

Nick Read's Farming Briefing

Bovine TB update

The government has announced further changes to the plan to vaccinate badgers against TB. Originally planned for six areas, it was then reduced to four (Staffordshire, Hereford/Worcester, Devon and Gloucestershire) and now only one area, around Stroud in Gloucestershire will be the subject of the trial, beginning in July for five years.

The outcome of a court action in Wales, brought by the Badger Trust against the Welsh Assembly Government’s decision to engage in a pilot cull of badgers, is now known. Although the application for Judicial Review was rejected on all counts, a judge has allowed an appeal against that decision. Planning for the cull continues and additional controls imposed on farms in the cull area remain in place.

Defra cuts
The government has announced the abolition of the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC), the successor to the Countryside Agency, during 2011. CRC acted as an independent watchdog and advocate for rural communities, with a particular emphasis on social inclusion and tackling disadvantage. The chairman of the CRC, Dr Stuart Burgess, acted as the Rural Advocate. The government argues that rural policy should be located within the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), rather than at arm’s length. The rural team within Defra will be strengthened to form a new Rural Policy unit with the brief of advising Ministers, acting as a centre of rural expertise, and championing rural needs and issues across government departments. Whilst the decision was not unexpected, the speed reflects the timetable set by government for the Comprehensive Spending Review, to be completed by the Autumn budget.

The Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) are also to be abolished, causing some uncertainty about the future of the £3.9bn Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE), which has been partly administered by the RDAs. RDAs are to be replaced by local economic partnerships, but full details will not be available until the summer. In addition, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency will be merged with the Animal Health Agency.

Uplands Report
CRC has also produced a report on the upland areas of England, arguing that they are failing to realise their full potential because of inadequate support for hill farmers. The uplands underpin a wealth of natural and cultural assets, including water resources, biodiversity, carbon sequestration and large tourism potential. The report recommends that the government should appoint an individual to oversee a new uplands strategy. Constraints to developing the uplands economy include high house prices relative to local earnings, poor mobile phone coverage and inadequate broadband networks.

EU insurance scheme
The European Commission is considering a publicly funded insurance scheme to ensure a minimum income for farmers if it gives up most of its market support mechanisms in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) set for 2013. Average incomes in agriculture are about 50% less than in other sectors, and two thirds of farmers’ earnings come from direct payments under the CAP. There are also plans to create an agency that will promote European produce.

EU report on the dairy sector
The “High Level Group” on milk within the European Union has identified the need for dairy farmers to be given greater power to negotiate contract terms. There is an imbalance in bargaining power between farmers and dairies and the European Commission is asked to consider new laws that allow producer organisations to negotiate contract terms. Farmers groups have welcomed the proposals.

Agriculture and greenhouse gases
A report published in the US has concluded that high-yielding intensive farming has slowed global warming. The argument is that if technology had not boosted crop yields by 135% since the 1960s, large areas of natural habitat would have need to have been converted to agricultural use to maintain global food supplies, and the release of greenhouse gases as a result of ploughing etc would have significantly outweighed those produced in the manufacture of fertilisers, pesticides and machinery. The report advocates further investment in agricultural research as a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions

__________published July 15th 2010______________
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