BSPB’s 57th AGM

On October 13th 2023 the BSPB held its 57th annual general meeting at The Brewery in London.

Chairman, Robin Wood of Elsoms, welcomed members and guests to the event and explained that following the departure of CEO Samantha Brooke, that Stephanie Spiers and Anthony Hopkins would share the organisation’s leadership, with Anthony joining from NFU in the coming months.

Steph Spiers, Head of Business Operations

Steph Spiers, Head of Business Operations

Robin went on to highlight how the BSPB has become a model for other countries as a leader in collecting fees from farmers. He referenced the online system and the hard work of the team at the BSPB’s office in Ely saying that recovery of farm payments was working very well.

Food security and shortages were repeatedly mentioned during the event, with Robin citing how important member’s research and development is to help prevent the empty salad fridges seen earlier in the year. He went on to say that the Precision Breeding Bill was a triumph for the plant breeding sector and one that with the support of the FSA could help bring further food security to the UK.

Whilst buoyant about members’ efforts and the successes of the year, it was evident that post Brexit challenges still remain. Robin explained 200 variety applications had or were still experiencing delays and that this was causing frustration at the potential lost income caused by vital time being lost to market new varieties.

Robin appealed to members to feedback thoughts and ideas to the BSPB team and closed the AGM by announcing the election of Richard Summers and Will Compson to the board.

Robin Wood, BSPB Chairman

Following the official end of the AGM members were treated to two presentations. The first from Tom Lancaster, land analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, explored the threat of climate change to agricultural production.

Tom cited the same crisis that suspended the sale of common household foods like peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes and suggested that research had showed the average household bill had increased by £407 in 2022.

He combated this by explaining that, despite the shortages and price increases, the UK has an extremely high level of food security.  However, it was evident that dependencies on imported products such as olive oil would see household food spend increase further if alternatives were not chosen. He quoted an estimated olive oil price rise of 49% due to the poor harvest in countries such as Spain and Greece.

To help further secure the availability of staples such as tomatoes, Tom suggested there was capacity in the UK to increase domestically grown produce. He quoted figures dating back to 1990 when the UK grew 38% of the tomatoes consumed, versus 2022 when the UK’s reliance on imports had grown and domestically produced tomatoes totalled just 16%.

In a positive summary and conclusion, Tom said the UK should be proud of its level of food security, but should also be aware that efforts to offset agricultural production on climate change must be a priority to help avoid food shortages in the future.

Tom Lancaster, Head of Land, Food and Farming at ECIU

Graham Redman from the Andersons Centre spoke second and offered a fact filled presentation about the impact of agricultural policy on farming. Using a series of detailed graphs he compared agricultural performance from 2013/14 to 2022/23.

Focussing on total income from farming he suggested that the UK could be optimistic, and that growth had been consistent during the last ten years. However, 2023 and 2024 may not continue this trend despite the number of people involved in farming reducing. This, he suggested, was largely due to a decline in the amount of funding being received by farmers from the government.

This brought Graham on to the tricky subject of ELMs and England choosing to abandon BPS by 2028. He suggested Scotland and Northern Ireland would retain BPS payments for some years to come. However, Wales was likely to follow England sooner.

The new SFI scheme was discussed in detail with Graham suggesting that for farmers able to be flexible and make best use of the grants and incentives available there were genuine opportunities to secure high per hectare payments. He suggested the principles of SFI were to give a simple and flexible range of options to farmers that offered value for money and could be changed over time without the fear of complying too closely to prescriptive rules.

Graham further drew attention to BPS in England being delinked in 2024, meaning no entitlements or cross compliance. However, he explained the minimum reduction in 2024 will be 50%.

He used productivity data dating back to 1880 which clearly showed a very stable level of productivity in the arable sector for more than 140 years with little sign of change. Appealing to members he also explained how genetics would be preferred to chemicals now and in the future with Defra more likely to reward those using seed treatments.

He concluded that with new legislation comes opportunities for UK agriculture to be more sustainable and show consumers the benefits of farming more responsibly.

Graham Redman, The Andersons Centre

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