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18 News A SCATHING assessment of


the adverse impact of subsidies for farming has called for the UK Government to scrap direct payment of subsidies to farmers and instead channel money towards the provision of ‘public goods’ through contracts or funding public bodies. The report by Oxford University


economist Dieter Helm suggests that agriculture is very much a fringe industry that delivers little economic benefit to the United Kingdom. The academic claims that agriculture has been feather-bedded by subsidies, including exemption from fuel duty on agricultural diesel, and that Brexit presents the possibility of moving to a more efficient, more environmentally friendly future. While, Professor Helm suggests


that there should be a more hands- on management of the way subsidies are applied (assuming they are to be retained), he suggests that they should be provided on the basis of specific performance relating to ‘improving the natural environment’. It is not clear whether Professor


Helm believes that the countryside should be returned to the manmade condition it was in before post- war agriculture. Moreover, as he rejects the idea of food security as unobtainable, it is not clear to what extent his recommendations seek to turn back the clock and to what point in time. Moreover, Professor Helm


recognises an exception to his argument in relation to the farming of marginal land and states ‘The upland farmers have a key role in managing the land. Someone has to do it for the public benefit, and upland farmers tend to be rooted in these landscapes and understand them in a way that few from outside do. These are the marginal farmers, and the ones who are most dependent on subsidy. In any transition, these are the ones we should worry about – and not the large landowners in intensively large farms in the lowlands’. We put Professor Helm’s paper


to each of Wales’ Assembly parties, the Welsh Government, and Wales’ farming unions.


NFU FOCUS ON FOOD SECURITY


NFU Cymru President, Stephen


James, told us: “One of NFU Cymru’s key principles for a post- Brexit landscape is to ensure that, as a nation, we secure food supplies in the context of the global challenges we face. Farming provides one of the fundamental staples to life: food and, as such, food production should surely also be seen as a public good. “The EU Common Agricultural


Policy was established to guarantee regular supplies of food to consumers and has been constantly evolving to ensure that consumers have access


THE HERALD FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 16 2016


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Call to scrap direct payments attacked


‘Welsh Government has not shown Thomas


leadership’: Simon


to food that is affordable, safe and produced to the highest welfare, food quality and environmental standards that is expected by consumers. Leaving the EU provides an opportunity to reshape agricultural policy in Wales for the future, but we would argue that the foundations under which the CAP was established remain as relevant to Wales as ever before.”


FARMING IMPORTANT TO MORE THAN ECONOMY


Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet


Secretary for Energy, Climate Change and Rural Affairs, Simon Thomas, said: “Agriculture is a key sector in Wales, in terms of our culture, language and environment, as well as our economy. The decision to leave the European Union will have profound implications for our rural economy and we will need to take action to secure a strong and sustainable future for the agriculture industry and the rural economy as a whole. “This does not necessarily


mean continuing with existing farm payment arrangements, replicating the Common Agricultural Policy without reform, with the UK or Welsh Government or both providing funding in place of the European Union. “The Party of Wales has been


consulting over the summer on the future of rural policies after the referendum result to leave the European Union. As Rural Affairs spokesperson, I’ve visited several agricultural shows to discuss the issue with farmers and stakeholders. Our consultation is open until September 30.”


FUW SLAM ‘SIMPLISTIC’ APPROACH


There was scathing criticism of


Professor Helm’s proposals from the FUW. In a strong rebuttal of the positions proposed in the paper, an FUW spokesperson said: “A great deal of Helm’s paper makes sweeping and simplistic assumptions about highly complex and diverse situations, which is always extremely dangerous. “For example, the assumption that


providing decoupled Pillar 1 support to some, but not others within a free


William Powell: This is definitely not a case where ‘for Wales read England’


trade region such as the EU will not unfairly distort trade is naïve to say the least.” The critique continued to attack


the fundamentals of the academic’s observation: “As with all similar proposals we have seen, there is a conspicuous absence of any discussion on the legality of what Helm proposes. “The World Trade Organisation


rules on providing support for the delivery of public goods are very strict and limited, and breaching these has wide-reaching implications for UK trade. It’s go good blurting out ideas while ignoring this ‘elephant in the room’. “Helm also makes the incredibly


simplistic assumption that the UK can be split between the uplands and the lowlands; average Welsh lowland livestock farm incomes stand at around £18,000, so it is no good assuming our lowlands are exclusively occupied by vast arable and horticulture farms just because that is the case in some areas. “The most disappointing thing


about this paper is the way in which some useful ideas and suggestions which should be discussed are undermined by an overly simplistic, aggressive and unbalanced preamble.”


WALES NEEDS A DISTINCTIVE APPROACH


In Liberal Democrat William


Powell’s assessment of Professor Helm’s proposals, he told The Herald that Welsh and English agriculture were not only distinctive but required distinctive approaches to the question of subsidies’ impacts on local economies. “Dieter Helm’s analysis of


the options for an agricultural support regime post-Brexit may be superficially attractive. However, even if there were to be a case for DEFRA looking seriously at this across England, this is definitely not a case where ‘for Wales read England’ is either appropriate or desirable. “We understand well that the


much maligned CAP was designed by, and for, people in Europe who still knew from personal experience what it meant to be hungry - and thus it has food security at its core. Whilst accepting that Helm is correct


No answers: Lesley Griffiths


in his comments about some of the unintended consequences of the CAP, especially in its earliest form, Welsh Liberal Democrats remain convinced that food security must remain the prime focus of agricultural policy. “‘In this context, with farm


productivity, as with animal welfare, there is no proven link between farms of a particular size and optimum results. That also goes against the sloppy thinking that upland farmers are necessarily unproductive - or indeed that their lowland cousins are automatically more productive. The truth is much more nuanced - and agricultural policy has to be based upon a more sophisticated analysis and accurate modelling.” Turning to the proposal at which


the FUW levelled its criticism, William Powell told us: “Andrea Leadsom’s now notorious comments about upland farmers ‘looking after the butterflies’ reflect such an ill- informed, one size fits all approach. Welsh farmers need and deserve better than this. This thinking, which seems also to underscore Dieter Helm’s approach, is a powerful argument against the repatriation of farm and environment policy from Brussels to Westminster, thus undermining a central plank of the devolution settlement. It is deeply irresponsible to contemplate such a move on grounds of ideology.” Calling for a Wales-based solution


for Welsh agriculture, the Liberal Democrat continued: “As well as the vital issue of membership of the European single Market for Welsh farming, we also need a policy framework that is made in Wales, for the betterment of Welsh farming and our precious natural environment. Farmers still recall the experience of FMD, when they were relieved to be dealing with Cardiff, rather than the monolith of DEFRA. In many areas of policy, such as arable farming, Wales does not have sufficient acreage to produce a reliable data set - and this is a sure recipe for ill-suited policy formulated at Westminster level. “We know that the family farm


is the powerhouse of the Welsh rural economy - and that those who farm are the only effective custodians of the natural environment. We cannot allow


Andrew RT Davies: Silent on subsidies


the disastrous ideology of Brexit to put further at risk something of such intrinsic value to the people of Wales.”


NO CONSENSUS AND NO LEADERSHIP


The range of opinions being


offered on agriculture’s future after the UK finally departs the EU is as wide as the political gulf separating Nigel Farage from Jean-Claude Juncker. In fact, there appear to be


considerably more opinions as to what should be done without any indication as to what will be done. Some of the largest existing subsidy recipients – such as the National Trust – are pushing for a settlement that favours them. There are suggestions from some academics that the time has come to end top down regimes and concentrate on direct local subsidies, while still others – notably a paper from LSE - state that ‘Top-down’ policies like the CAP can be a more effective way of channelling resources to the most deprived areas than interventions which rely on the direct action of local groups. The lack of clarity from either


the UK or the Welsh government, the apparent lack of any forethought as to the practicalities of disentangling the close ties between agriculture from Britain’s relationship with the EU, and the pointed failure of the Conservative parties in either Wales or the UK to stand behind pledges that Welsh farmers would be ‘left no worse off’ in the event of Brexit, continue to cause uncertainty. In the Senedd this week,


Simon Thomas called on the Welsh Government to show some leadership, adding: “The future of Wales’ rural economy depends on trade and economic relations with the EU and the rest of the world as well as the future role of farm payment schemes. Unfortunately, the Labour Welsh Government has not shown strong leadership following the decision to leave the European Union. We need to ensure that Wales’ voice is heard in negotiations and that the Welsh national interest is represented. This includes stating the importance to Wales of agriculture and the rural economy as a whole.”


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