With BA and DPhil degrees from Oxford University, Matt Ridley worked for the Economist for nine years as science editor, Washington correspondent and American editor, before becoming a self-employed writer and businessman. He founded the Mind and Matter column in the Wall Street Journal and has been a weekly columnist for The Telegraph and The Times. He sits in the House of Lords as a Conservative and is a member of Science and Technology select committee.
Henry Dieudonné-Demaria, Head of the Natural Capital Committee Secretariat of the Natural Environment Strategy, Defra, presented the work and aims of the Natural Capital Committee and confirmed the Government has pledged to be the first to leave the environment in a better state than they inherited it. Adding to the debate were Phil Bicknell (Market Intelligence Director from AHDB), Tom Keen (EU Exit & International Trade Adviser from the NFU) and Mark Bridgeman (Deputy President of the CLA).
The Group welcomed Nick Von Westenholz, Director of EU Exit and International Trade for the NFU, and Simon Ward from Increment and The Policy Group to present their thoughts on “Brexit, EU Exit, Brave New WTO World”. Nick Von Westenholz said Brexit was an issue for the whole food chain. He discussed the key areas for the NFU’s negotiations, which focused on Societal, Trade and Labour issues, and the new Domestic Agricultural Policy. Simon Ward delved into his four areas of concern over Brexit, mainly Support, Trade and tariff, Labour, and Regulation.
We welcomed Martin Howarth (Director of Strategy, NFU) and Tim Breitmeyer (Deputy President, CLA). Discussion: ‘Building an industry post-Brexit’. The guests outlined the main challenges facing British Agriculture following the decision for the UK to leave the EU. They discussed the issues of trade, non-UK labour, reallocation of funding away from direct support to increasing productivity, R&D, knowledge exchange, grants, tax relief and earned recognition of assurance schemes with CFG members.
We welcomed Owen Paterson MP, ‘Brexit’ campaigner, and Simon Ward, consultant specialist on the CAP
Discussion: If the UK was ‘running its own show’, could it make autonomous, science-based decisions on issues like GM? A new UK-focused agricultural policy could encompass a reward system for good behaviour – eg gold, silver, bronze with lighter-touch regulation for the best operators. We could then focus effort on the 20% who are doing things wrong. Environmental outcomes could be set according to national policies. But irrespective of discussions about Brexit, the debate needs to be started on the next CAP Reform. A suggestion was Pillar 1 could be phased out and Pillar 2 retained, with focus on areas such as public goods, halting the depopulation of the countryside, improving infrastructure, promoting niche goods, making supply chains as efficient as possible and stimulating R&D/technology development and uptake
We welcomed Peter Kendall, Chairman of AHDB, Richard Laverick, Chief Technical Officer of AHDB, and Professor Chris Stoate from the Sustainable Intensification Programme (SIP) as special guests.
Discussion: In the R&D ‘valley of death’, there is concern about the impact of cuts on research contractors, and also that the Agritech Strategy is focused on stimulating businesses that supply agriculture to carry out applied research. Must be a focus on the delivery of applied research for issues which carry no associated commercial value, eg soil science. Knowledge exchange is flagged as an area of particular weakness, which AHDB is addressing. The potential for large agribusiness to plug the gaps was discussed. It was also suggested that the improved marketability of products with environmental credentials should provide a stimulus for research.