‘Food production should receive its proper reward from all of us as individual consumers,’ writes John Webster.
Friday 5 August 2016 17.55 BST
Your editorial “The future of food and the farming revolution” (4 August) discusses a speech by the director of the National Trust, whose main role is protecting British heritage.
That Brexit provides an opportunity to reform agricultural policy is reasonable, but many of the problems outlined were not solely due to failures of the common agricultural policy (CAP).
For example, the lack of improved productivity from British farms is largely due to low farm-gate prices that make it hard to justify investment in new techniques.
This is exacerbated by the arbitrary management of supermarket contracts.
The use of immigrant labour has more to do with rural housing and employment policy, restrictions on the traditional Travellers’ way of life, and lack of employment in eastern Europe, than with the CAP.
Neither was CAP responsible for the horse-meat scandal, which was caused by reaction to low prices in the processing industry.
Pollution of water courses, due to loss of nutrients, represents an economic disaster for farms, and is caused either by severe weather, or by incompetent management.
Management problems have been made worse by the closure of agricultural colleges and the Agricultural Advisory Service.
Butterfly populations are still in decline in spite of the diversion of subsidies into environmental schemes.
The lack of planning for individual farms, and the lack of before and after ecological surveys on individual farms, are major contributors to this.
While there have been some successes, much of the publicity appears to be green-washing by companies practising uniform management over several different habitats.
Food security is likely to become much more important as climate change increases the frequency of severe weather making transport riskier, and increases price volatility.
Tropical desertification and population growth will increase international food prices.
St Clears, Carmarthenshire
• “Rural England and Wales was the bedrock of the Brexit vote,” according to your editorial.
Really? Ceredigion and Gwynedd and Monmouth are as rural and under-populated as Britain gets below Scotland, and those areas voted firmly to remain.
We recognise the need for allies against bullying in these Welsh-speaking heartlands and how vital EU support is (was) for minority languages and, through them, identities.
Don’t lump us in with England again; here in these already deracinated areas, the anger and despair against the pointless referendum and its catastrophic result continues to grow.
• The proposal from the National Trust for a post-Brexit reform of the common agriculture policy takes a bold step in the right direction.
I suggest, however, that it does not go far enough.
They stress that there is more to the story than hedges and butterflies and draw attention to the need to improve the management of water and soil.
One big thing they appear to miss is the potential of permanent pastures and especially silvo-pastoral systems (animals grazing among trees and shrubs) to counter climate change through net carbon sequestration, even after accounting for methane production from the animals.
While intensive farming and our high consumption of food from animals are major contributors to greenhouse gas production, our green and pleasant land, when managed properly, provides a most powerful vehicle for carbon capture.
The message for the farming industry must be that their responsibility is not just to produce food but to ensure proper husbandry of the land and its resources: crops and animals, both domestic and wild, soil and water, beauty and amenity.
Food production should receive its proper reward from all of us as individual consumers.
Those who demand higher standards of animal welfare should be prepared to pay a little more.
However, water management and carbon sequestration (together with beauty and amenity) are long-term contributors to the public good and should properly be supported from the public purse.
If the polluters should be made to pay, then it is only fair to recognise that the anti-polluters, the good stewards, should receive their due reward.
Professor emeritus, University of Bristol
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