Unfortunately I'm unable to attend the NFU hustings, but I've responded honestly and openly to the questions you pose.
I thank you for having posed these questions to me as a candidate in these elections. You have given me the impetus to talk to others from the farming community and from which I have learnt a lot. Please accept these responses to your questions as an honest attempt to try to understand what the farming community is living through as we face such an uncertain future and how I and the Green Party could potentially help.
If I were to be elected as MP for the Forest of Dean, I would begin my term by visiting many more local farmers, to listen and learn about the pressures they are working under and the suggestions they have for improving the sector for the welfare of all concerned.
With kind regards,
Gloucestershire & South Gloucestershire NFU General Election Parliamentary Candidates Survey
1. If you are elected as an MP, what would be your top priorities locally and nationally over the next 4/5 years?
If elected as MP I will continue to prioritise the urgency of tackling climate change at every level. Reducing our carbon footprint before it tips the climate over the edge must be supported by a huge investment in low carbon infrastructure and a massive increase in carbon storage potential, for which farmers are ideally placed. The Green Party will invest massively in the Green New Deal. If we lose the environment which supports us all, then society collapses and we are ruined. In our heart of hearts we all know this. I fully understand the inconvenient truths the scientific evidence is providing of the dangers we face if we don't tackle climate change urgently. I will ask farmers to help be the change we need to ensure farming thrives and farmers prosper whilst reducing local and national carbon footprints. It is doable if the will is there.
The Green Party position is to encourage a rapid transition to sustainable agricultural practices and a move away from the use of chemicals which degrade our ecosystems and erode our soils.
The other priority is to improve the well-being of people and the communities in which we live. For farmers this will mean supporting their welfare and working with the NFU to tackle the issue of poverty. That one farmer a week is taking their own life, and some farmers are having to resort to foodbanks is a damning indictement of careless governance of the agricultural sector and farmers' welfare.
2. How will you help to ensure that Brexit will be a success for British farmers?
In April 2016, the NFU put out this statement. “The NFU Council resolves that on the balance of existing evidence available to us at present, the interests of farmers are best served by our continuing membership of the European Union”.
I and the Green Party do not believe that a successful Brexit is possible or necessary. I ask whether farmers truly believe the government will, post Brexit, replace the farming subsidies £ for £.
We are a proudly pro-European party and are unequivocally campaigning for Britain to Remain in the EU. By having a say in EU policies, we will champion reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, so that it promotes more sustainable farming methods. Through our Green New Deal, we will work with farmers to refocus farm subsidies to help farmers transition to more sustainable, diverse and environmentally friendly forms of land use, including organic farming, agroforestry and mixed farming, and away from intensive livestock farming. The Green Party position is to encourage a rapid transition to sustainable agricultural practices and a move away from the use of chemicals which destroy our ecosystems and erode our soils.
We know that we will need to incentivise changes in food consumption, by promoting the benefits of healthy diets, based on locally and sustainably produced food, and ‘less but better’ meat and dairy consumption, including clear labelling to indicate carbon emissions, high animal welfare and intensive production methods. I will be honest and frank with you. The intensive production of meat is a major contributor to climate change and we have to face that and acknowledge that.
This is the result of markets demanding a supply of abundant cheap meat. The impact has been to devalue farm product and drive the intensification to make more profit. The Green Party will support the transition to plant-based diets by phasing in a tax on meat and dairy products over the next ten years, to reduce the 5% of the UK’s carbon emissions. Although methane production is often mentioned, the main contributor is land use (often deforested) which is needed to feed the intensification of livestock. The fertilizer and fuels which are used to grow the cereals and soya produce far worse emissions than naturally grazed livestock emissions.
This policy is aimed at the intensive farming of livestock.. The revenues from this part of the Carbon Tax will be recycled back into farming, and will be spent on measures to help farmers transition to more sustainable farming methods.
We know that we will need to incentivise changes in food consumption, by promoting the benefits of healthy diets, based on locally and sustainably produced food, and ‘less but better’ meat and dairy consumption, including clear labelling to indicate carbon emissions, high animal welfare and intensive production methods. We will drive innovation into food production methods which are supported by renewable power and fertilizer under controlled conditions in protected environments which will mitigate climate change and alleviate the impact of global warming.
3. The outcome of this General Election will affect every aspect of farming in the UK, particularly when it comes to how we trade with the rest of the world. What’s your vision for the future of British farming after Brexit?
My vision for the future of British farming after Brexit is not a good one. I think we will be in a desperate position to agree a trade deal with other countries, especially the US. Your President Minette Batters has stated that “US farmers can out compete British farmers on price by using products and methods banned in the UK as early as the 1980s. That’s not a criticism of US farmers but a statement of fact about the different legal requirements facing farmers in the UK. British farmers are quite reasonably expected to meet the values of the British public when it comes to how our food is produced – those values must not be sacrificed in pursuit of hurried trade deals.”
I think the best trade deal we have is the current one with our biggest trading partner, the EU. It is free of tariffs and continues to seek to improve welfare standards. I therefore repeat that the Green Party will campaign to remain in the EU and lead any reforms necessary to make the farming industry truly sustainable. The world needs a level playing field and embracing the polluter pays policy unilaterally through industry and state services will be our best defence against the US trade deficient deals.
4. The UK rightly has some of the highest standards in the world for farm animal health and welfare. Will you commit to ensuring that British producers are not unfairly disadvantaged by cheaper, lower welfare, imported produce which doesn’t adhere to our standards?
As above, the Green Party is against Brexit. We are concerned that Brexit won't 'get done' and that we may face a no-deal situation which would compromise all trade negotiations and impact negatively on our relationships with trading partners. We are a pro-European party.
With respect to welfare standards, we continue to view intensive farming as cruel. Animals are regarded as a product to be factory grown for maximum profit. We will advocate for European legalisation to end factory farming, prohibit the routine use of antibiotics for farm animals, and ban the killing of animals for sport across the EU. We will also advocate for European legalisation to reduce transportation times for animals, including the halting of all live animal exports from the UK.
This is so important as it is upsetting that all farmers are lumped together as farming intensively and thereby being cruel to their animals! I recognise that many farmers are not guilty of cruelty; animals must be well cared for otherwise they wouldn’t give milk; they wouldn’t thrive in order to be sold for meat and the already miniscule margins would be unsustainable. The UK has the highest welfare standards in the world and if supermarkets didn’t import vast quantities of produce to satisfy the need for cheap food, the agricultural industry would be in a better state. There seems to be no joined up thinking when it comes to imports and exports; why do we export products that we then need to import? We will work with farmers to achieve recognition for high welfare standards and the prices they deserve.
5. We have already seen the problems when we have a shortfall in seasonal workers. We have had crops rotting in the fields, fruit unpicked and businesses losing thousands of pounds. We need certainty on the status of future seasonal agricultural workers. What would be your approach to fixing the shortfall of skilled migrant labour on UK farms and would you commit to supporting and expanding the current SAWS pilot for the long-term?
The Green Party will campaign for our remaining in the European Union. We will enshrine Freedom of Movement as a core principle of the EU – enabling people to freely live, learn, work and love without borders. Reducing the uncertainty surrounding the conditions of employment for European workers, and addressing the hostile environment which discriminates against them, will help reverse the declining trend in seasonal agricultural workers.
Even if Brexit were to take place, I am not sure how the SAWs pilot will work. The NFU itself has acknowledged the need for many more workers than the pilot is ready to provide. “2,500 workers will be able to come to the UK in each year of the 24-month scheme, though the NFU estimates 80,000 people are needed annually to harvest British crops.” And in truth, these agricultural workers do work which would not be accepted by the general UK workforce. This pilot policy shows a total lack of respect for such workers.
I would want those who prove themselves able to do the work reliably, wherever they come from, to be given references and the appropriate work visas to repeatedly return and contribute to the British economy whilst able to use the services they need for their welfare for free as they are tax payers whilst in this country.
5. In many food supply chains farmers are “price takers” at the bottom of the pile; often with supermarkets at the top. What steps would you take to ensure that farmers receive a fair price for the food they produce?
I don't know, to be honest. Couldn't the NFU negotiate for all union members on their behalf? Individually, farmers don't stand a chance. Together they have much greater leverage. All farmers must cover their costs or go bankrupt. The NFU must be able to provide expert negotiators. Are there not examples of farmers who are negotiating well with the retailers?
I say this as a non-farmer. However, I recognise that society is at the root of the problem; consumerism and the power of the supermarkets have forced farmers to farm the way they do. Agriculture is the second most important industry in the world next to water supply, yet farmers are blamed for ‘everything’ and taken advantage of in that they cannot command a realistic price for their produce; they have to take what they are given and have no choice but to accept even if it means operating at a loss! As I said earlier, I don't know how this problem can be best resolved but would listen to the farming community for suggestions.
6. Bovine TB has a devastating impact on our rural communities. Not only on those animals that have to be culled, but on the farmers whose businesses are severely damaged as a result. The scientific evidence is clear that the 25- year TB eradication strategy is working and an essential part of that is wildlife control. Will you speak up for a fact based approach to tackling Bovine TB and support the continuation of the cull? If not what would be your approach to controlling this devastating disease?
The Green Party approach is to end the badger cull, which has no evidence basis and has failed to effectively reduce Bovine TB. We will fund research into a sensitive test to enable cattle vaccination, as an essential, as well as humane, part of a meaningful strategy to control the spread of the disease. We will also invest in better farm bio-security and badger vaccination. We will research why badgers and cattle are so prone to TB and whether their immune systems are too weak to avoid infection. Some evidence suggests that available trace elements are missing in their diet and more research is needed into this disease and its cause.
7. Many communities suffer particular problems with criminality, but the national policy focus is on urban areas. Rural communities often feel that they are being short changed by the resources allocated to these crimes. How would you support fairer funding for rural policing, a cross-departmental rural crime task force and be a champion in parliament for more action?
This should be an initiative driven by the insurance companies with government support to increase resistance to burglaries and enable more effective rural policing. I am told that most rural burglaries are opportunistic. Being more burglar proof will reduce the opportunities and make the police effort more effective.
8. Farmers across the county are seeing mass failure in the establishment of crops like oilseed rape due to the ban on neonicotinoids yet at the same time we are importing vast quantities of oilseed rape produced using this chemical. How would you ensure a level playing field for British farmers with the rest of the world when it comes to the application of available science and technology?
Evidence suggests that the dependence on neonicotinoids is as a result of growing oilseed rape too frequently in the rotation. A 5-year break reduces the success of the flea beetle. This pressure can only be changed by reducing the requirement for oil seed rape. We would ask why is there a market for biodiesel when its carbon footprint is so bad? This then should be a trade deal rule to level the playing field.
9. Despite being such a rural county, many of the residents are disconnected with farming and the origin of their food. How would you seek to ensure our education system champions food and farming with children throughout their school careers
Food and farming needs to be part of education in sustainability; the integration of food production, nature and climate change will generate appreciation and understanding of the farming community. This then can be applied to integrating communities with agriculture and the environment.
10. The NFU has set out an ambitious plan for British agriculture to be net zero, in its carbon emissions, by 2040 which is 10 years ahead of the government’s target for the whole economy. We need more hedges, trees, investment in farm productivity and a carbon market for the carbon we sequester in our soils but what we need most is to make these choices the best business decision. How would you incentivise agriculture to hit net zero by 2040?
In truth the Green Party target for net zero emissions is 2030, acknowledging the speed and risk which rapidly accelerating climate change poses to tour society and environment.
Nevertheless, by applying the polluter pays policy unilaterally we will incentivise products with reduced carbon footprint. By using equivalent pricing to high carbon product plus the polluter pays cost will become the market cost.
11. In the last few months large areas of farm land in the county have been under water acting as flood storage protecting urban areas or have been inaccessible due to the wet conditions. Our approach to river management and water infrastructure badly needs investment and we need a more coordinated approach to water conveyance and flood risk management. What would be your approach to managing water better in the river catchments of your constituency?
We will deploy environmentally friendly flood management measures to protect communities from flooding. These measures, which include tree planning and soil restoration in upland catchment areas to tackle excess water at source, are cheaper and more effective than the traditional approach of simply covering river banks in concrete.
We will change the planning system to prevent building on floodplains, to further reduce the flooding risk communities. Nevertheless, with unabated climate change, flooding will not be fully preventable in future. We may have to expect flooding and allowing land to flood as a balancing system. We will need an ongoing subsidy system with support which does not effectively devalue the land parcels involved.
12. Farm businesses need to change and develop in order to keep up with the latest technologies, comply with the latest regulations and maximise efficiency savings Do you think the planning system should be changed to better support these needs? And how would you support your farming constituents through the planning process if you were elected?
The planning system does need to support innovation which does not lead to intensification but encourages sustainability and carbon footprint reduction. It is possible that an added form of permitted development is created with rules that protect proximity but support the sustainable gain .