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Agricultural Policy

When it comes to Farmers getting support payments for Public Goods, it is important to remember agricultural education.

Farmers seem to get more than their fair share of bad press; so it is right and proper to celebrate all of the extra things they do.

This week I was walking alongside a wheat field in deepest darkest Essex thinking about what I was going to say to farmers at a meeting that evening. It was another day of debate and intrigue in Westminster as politicians desperately and vocally thrashed around looking for a solution to the “Brexit issue”. Hearing noise up ahead, I turned a corner of the field to find two irate crows and a magpie making a lot of noise and flying repeatedly at another bird in the trees. Looking up I saw what I assume was a sparrow hawk busily shredding the feathers of a black bird – presumably a small crow but perhaps a large blackbird. It seemed so much an allegory of Westminster at the moment; a combination of a feeding frenzy and an awful lot of unintelligible noise.

But in reality, it brought me back to farming. Without the interjection of farmers in a modern agricultural landscape, we would not have carefully managed hedgerows that provide food and shelter for songbirds, we would not have the beetle banks and tussocky grasses, which provide insect living spaces, and cover strips, wild flower pollinator and seed strips, etc. Yes, farmers get some recompense for such activity, but it is clear that what so many of them put back into their environment exceeds any monetary payment both in time and costs. And the increasing number of raptors in our countryside is a testament that their work as effect custodians is working.

There has been much discussion around what agricultural policy might look like post-Brexit. What we know from the various machinations coming out of DEFRA, is that whilst EU-style support payments will continue unaffected until the next General election, currently due in 2022, such support post this date is likely to be focused almost solely on the provision of public goods. But what constitutes a public good? Some would argue that the provision of safe, high quality affordable food is a public good; others would argue that it is the provision of environmental goods, such has wildflower meadows and habitats for raptors.

But other farmers take their abilities and experience in additional directions such as education, and I would argue that this is very much a public good, and one that should be supported by the taxpayer. For over 15 years Bayer has worked closely with Farming & Countryside Education (FACE) which, in what we see as an exciting development, has recently been incorporated into Linking Environment & Farming (LEAF) as LEAF Education. In ensuring that a useful educational visit to a farm happens in a safe manner, their objectives are simple:

  1. To help, engage and mobilise farmers in navigating the world of education and support them in working with schools,
  2. To provide training and resources for teachers and schools to inspire them to value farming in a learning context.

Every two years I am proud that Bayer finds a way to celebrate this process with a competition to find the very best farmers and growers involved in educational visits and projects https://cropscience.bayer.co.uk/about-us/awards-19/ . They are unbelievably humbling and inspiring occasions when you meet farmers and organisations who really are putting something back into the industry and livelihoods that they are involved with. Our commitment to supporting this competition is exactly that – a commitment to UK farming, UK farmers and all the extra work they do but which gets very little press.

Know anyone doing some great education activity on-farm? Why not nominate them for one of these awards – take a look at the list and see which one is appropriate; the nomination process is really easy – start at https://cropscience.bayer.co.uk/about-us/awards-19/