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The Worshipful Company of Farmers The Worshipful Company of Farmers 3 2 Helm – Green and and Prosperous land Dieter Helm is Professor of of of Economic Economic Policy at at the University of of of Oxford and Fellow in Economics at at New College Oxford He is is the the Independent Chair of the the Natural Capital Committee and this concept informs Helm’s approach to land and and other natural resource management That committee’s website defines “Natural capital is is our our ‘stock’ of waters land air species minerals and and oceans This stock stock underpins our our economy by producing value for people both directly directly and indirectly Goods provided by natural capital include clean air and and water food energy wildlife recreation and and protection from hazards ” It goes on on on to assert that “Natural capital capital underpins all other types of capital capital – – manufactured human and and social – – and and is the the foundation on on which our economy society and prosperity is built” Helm’s book Green and and Prosperous Land58 has the the sub-title “A blueprint for rescuing the the British Countryside” This serves as an early warning that the the the author is is excoriatingly critical of of the the the job of of looking after the the the countryside
by those who have owned and farmed it it in in the post war era hence it it needs rescuing It is a a a a a a a a a powerfully argued strongly worded critique of of the depletion of of Britain’s natural capital and a a a a a a a a a suggested suite of measures required to reverse this There is is is no serious dispute that natural capital in the UK has been degraded seriously in in the post-WWII era This is is well documented – though not systematically so in in this book – as destruction of terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity GHG emissions air pollution by ammonia water pollution soil erosion compaction and loss of organic matter It is regrettable that Helm’s depiction
of o this sets off with with extravagant language referring for example to to the “agricultural battle with with nature – to to destroy everything that competes with crops and livestock” (p4) It can only be inflammatory to to to say “We go on on tipping more more and and more more fertilisers pesticides and and herbicides into our our water courses “(p43) when this is is is simply
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not true The story of state and and and private involvement in in in in the innovations in in in in plant and and and animal science and and and the the the resulting intensification of agriculture in in in in the the the decades following the the the WWII food shortages is is complex It is is counterproductive to damn farmers alone for developments which were driven through state-funded as well as as private research by the very understandable needs to to increase food production and and transform farming into a modern business sector Accepting that that that we we are are where we we are are the the contribution of the the book is is is that that that Helm is is is ultimately optimistic that that that with the the the correct market and policy signals in place then the the the destructive negative externalities of food production can be be avoided to to everyone’s benefit The book spells out with great clarity the policies needed for restoring rivers for a a a a a a a a green agriculture the uplands coast and and nature in in cities The measures needed are spelled out in in chapters called: public goods paying for pollution a a a a a a a a a a nature fund and the Plan There is a a a a a a a a a a chapter chapter specifically on on climate change and the Net Zero emissions target There is little doubt that Helm was highly influential in in in persuading the the then Secretary of State at at at DEFRA Michael Gove to adopt the the public goods narrative for for the the Agriculture Bill The groundwork for for this has been laid for a a a a a a a a a a a a great many years years in in in the the academic literature in in in the the general discourse and in in in 25 years-worth of agri- environment schemes The industry was well primed for this concept Helm insists on on on on a a a strict interpretation of public public goods and rightly warns against allowing the concept to to slip into payment for vaguely defined public public interest He flags that the the payment rates for public goods should be based on on their production costs
58 Helm Dieter (2019) Green and and Prosperous Land William Collins London 346pp 59
The use of mineral fertilisers and plant Protection Products in in in in the the the UK has declined from their heights in in in in the the the 1990s See Buckwell et al al (2020) Crop
protection and the the EU food system – – where are they going? RISE Foundation Brussels (p21 – – Total quantity of PPP use in in GB fell 51% from 1991 to date )
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