A strong focus on delivering environmental benefits on farm could be the cause of the UK’s low agricultural productivity, according to former NFU Mutual chair Lord Curry.
The peer made the remarks at a National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) conference in Durham yesterday (February 13).
Increasing the UK’s agricultural productivity has been the subject of much debate in recent years, as the country has fallen way behind its competitors in the USA and the Netherlands.
This ‘productivity gap’ has been estimated to be worth over £4.3bn in lost GDP between 2000 and 2013.
But now Lord Curry has suggested the problem could be down to high environmental standards in the UK.
He said: “One of the thing which concerns me is this balance between the management of the environment and the production of food.
“I am raising a question about the definition of total factor productivity and whether one of the reasons why our productivity is lower than our competitors is because we have got lots of land which is delivering significant environmental benefits and not a lot of production.
“On our arable fields, we have margins we have set aside, and in livestock rearing areas of Britain, we look after our environment generally fairly well.
“I am concerned this factor is not being taken into account as seriously as it should be when we are looking at our productivity.”
The peer went on to suggest the problem could be exacerbated by the new public money for public goods scheme which Defra plans to introduce after Brexit.
“We need to make sure these two things are understood together,” he said.
“On the one hand, we need to improve our productivity, but on the other, we need to improve our environmental management.
“It may be we need a better calculation to demonstrate whether we are succeeding or not on both fronts, together.”