A top Tory peer has called on Defra officials to ensure the value of landscape preservation is included in farm productivity calculations.
Cumbria farmer Lord Inglewood, who is also president of the National Sheep Association, hit out at current methods for measuring agricultural productivity which do not take into account the work farmers do to shape iconic landscapes which are a magnet for tourists.
Speaking at a Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum event in London last week (June 18), he questioned why the advanced engineering sector in Cumbria was found to have very high productivity, but the farming areas in the Lake District ranked much lower.
“The Lake District, which is a world heritage site, is one of the biggest generators of wealth in our area,” he said.
“The reason people come is because of the landscape. I suspect the value of the input of farmers to that compared to the value of the output of farmers to the food chain is probably something like 1,000 per cent.
“In the statistics for productivity, no cognisance is made of that at all.
“Surely if you are measuring the productivity of agriculture, you have got to include everything, even the more intangible things farmers are doing, and even if they may be a bit more difficult to calibrate.
“Failing to measure some of agriculture’s outputs distorts the overall picture.”
Tim Mordan, deputy director of Defra’s agri-food chain team, with responsibility for innovation, productivity and science, was also speaking at the event and acknowledged Lord Inglewood was ‘absolutely right’.
“We have got a group with a few economists to start looking at what we are measuring and how we measure it, but it is difficult,” he said.
“We need to measure it, because we at Defra have to satisfy the Treasury that any money we spend on supporting farmers in the coming years represents a good return on investment for taxpayers.
“It is something we are very aware of.”