Bishop of St Albans highlights issues with crop diversification

On 2nd June the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Gardiner of Kimble that the “Virtual Proceedings do consider the Direct Payments to Farmers (Crop Diversification Derogation) (England) Regulations 2020”. The Rt Revd Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans spoke in the debate, and highlighted issues with crop diversity.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, British agriculture needs all the help it can get at this moment, so this legislation is most welcome. I congratulate Her Majesty’s Government on their flexibility in responding to this need. As the National Farmers Union said earlier this year, farmers

“have found it virtually impossible to have one crop in the ground, let alone three. Without a derogation they would have been forced down the bureaucratic ‘force majeure’ route that would require case by case assessments.”

These Benches have long supported efforts to promote the environmental aspects of the three-crop rule and many other EU-driven policies, yet they must be applied to the unique British farming ecosystem. Currently, farmers talk about the large parts of the country which were drenched last winter, following Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis; now, a few months later, many of our fields are dry. One commodity trader wrote that the weather has been against the grower throughout this season, so this regulation is timely and necessary.

Recent events such as the coronavirus pandemic have brought into focus the need to support all our supply chains, especially in food. As your Lordships’ House will be aware, the Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill will take place tomorrow week. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will show the same flexibility in responding to Members’ concerns about our dairy industry and home-grown food sustainability, along with the provision of sufficient labour for the harvest.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble responded to the Bishop of St Albans: “The noble Earl, Lord Devon, asked about any plans to incorporate crop diversification rules into the future ELM scheme and whether we consider crop diversification to be good farming practice—a point also raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Northover, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, and the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. Although this derogation is an emergency response measure and not a reflection of views concerning crop diversification as a policy, it is generally recognised that the crop diversification rules have not delivered the environmental and climate-related outcomes that they were designed for. This view was documented in the European Court of Auditors’ 2017 special report on greening”.


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