Campaigning on Behalf

of Britain's Family Farms

Osborne Newton, Aveton Gifford, Kingsbridge, Tel: 01548 852794,

Email: pippafamilyfarmers@gmail.com

Newsletter Spring 2017

 

Brexit Worries

 

Most of  the  excitement  over  Brexit  is about trade.  It  is  not  about  who  will  buy  our  lamb,  if  not  France,   but about who will buy the products of our heavy industries – cars, planes, and suchlike. There    is a tacit assumption that whoever will buy our “important” products will also sell us unlimited cheap food. This imported food could bankrupt many farmers, as the majority of people will not want to pay much higher prices for our home grown food, even if it is produced to a higher standard.

We now have a mission: to make our government understand that British farmers are absolutely dependent on subsidies to  produce  many  of  our food crops; that if subsidies cease to be available, many farmers will cease production and we will be desperately dependent on imported food. Once our food production is abandoned, international food traders will have us at their mercy. Also there will be no British countryside. Farming is what creates, and cares  for,  the  landscape.  With  no landscape - animals at pasture, waving fields of corn - to enjoy, all our lives will be poorer, and our tourist industry  greatly reduced.

 

Already there is an official “UK – US trade relations inquiry”. The scope was extremely wide: the challenges, opportunities  and implications   for   the   “production   and   sale of  goods and services on both sides of the Atlantic.” A frightening prospect for   us!

 

In our submission we pointed out that as US costs of production are low and their surpluses large, their prices are likely to be much below  our costs of production. Free trade, which industrialists  are  looking  for,  could  bankrupt a high proportion of British farmers,  who  would not be able to compete on price. We further pointed out that, although many people seem to think farming is an unimportant activity, if it was simply abandoned, the resulting dereliction  of our countryside would be much regretted, and the tourist  industry seriously  damaged.

We are not equipped to comment on all aspects of the Brexit arguments. But we must try to inform the public about the likely effects any proposals  will  have  on  both  our  food   and our rural communities. Huge scale agricultural production will be defended by large farmers. Ecology has a large and well funded body fighting to protect all our flora and fauna from damage by farming (or possible absence of farming). It is our job to fight for the ordinary small and medium sized farmer, to explain his importance throughout the countryside and our rural  communities.

 

Are small farmers as worth defending as birds, bats, fritillaries, etc? They could even be essential to the survival of much wildlife. Nobody knows; there has been no research recently into the ecology of smaller  farms. If we are to continue to fight for smaller  family farms, we shall need financial help to employ experts.

 

 

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Annual Westminster Meeting

 

As usual we  gathered  a  good  group of interesting  and  interested  people  in  the  Jubilee  Room.  Professor Matt Lobley talked on the implications of Exeter University’s report on the future of small farms.

 

His report has been summarised in previous newsletters

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They thought that small farms were the bedrock of farming; the best way of defining them was  by manpower – farms that employed  one  or  two people. Matt emphasized that, while some smaller farmers were successful, they are, as  we have often pointed out, something of a dying breed. Some are successfully handed on down generations, and these tend to be the  best  ones. But many have no successor, produce less, and when they die, their land is often taken up by a neighbour, thus creating a larger farm. Some small farmers do their best to become big farmers!

 

The history of “the small farm problem” is interesting. Matt thought it was only serious since after the second world  war.  He  pointed out that  as  a  whole,  small  farms  are  useful  to communities. Where there are many, they  help to keep local facilities of all kinds viable. They provide a source of extra labour in busy periods, and also for performing useful jobs  such as clearing roads of trees after   storms.

He thought supporting small farms was important. The single farm payment is vital for them - payments should not depend on size, but be given according to the benefits provided by the farm. He mentioned lapwings as a specific example – they could make a farm worthy of subsidy. More help should be available on hills and moorland. A big help would be to allow one second house on a farm so the two generations could  work together.

 

Dame Helen Ghosh  started  by  saying  that  the National Trust’s remit was not to do with farming. It had not been set up specifically for farming. Its involvement with farming had come by accident, along with the stately homes it had acquired. New objectives have  now  been  set up for the next ten years. There will be more emphasis on carbon retention, habitat and ecology.

 

Half their farms were let on farm business tenancies, other tenancies averaged fifteen years. She thought most of the way people farmed was governed by what is profitable, it was not necessarily how farmers would like to farm. She thought farmers followed the supply   of money, and money for farmers is regulated   by  government policy.

 

Subsidies should be distributed by outcome, not by area. Hill farming needed a mechanism for   its protection; public money should be available for public good. She thought a “ladder” of farms of different sizes was needed for the sake of the landscape and to give farmers a start on small farms.

 

Discussion followed freely. The chairman started it by asking the question: who provides the advisory service farmers need? The answer did not seem very  satisfactory.

Dame Helen was asked if available subsidies would go to the National Trust or their tenants?

 

Answer: “The tenants.”

 

Question: Do you want pillar two to be scrapped?

 

Dame Helen: Yes, subsidies should be diverted to other outcomes from the farm, not  simply  food  production.

 

Q: How long will the transition take into other means of financial  support?

 

A:  A long time; after all the Brexit deals

 

Q: Farmers will need a decent income after the proposed end to subsidies. Do subsidies result  in cheaper food? I support and agree with the National Trust’s “mosaic policy” in the Lake District.

 

Q: There was  a  problem  10  years  ago  with the willingness of taxpayers to give support for subsidies to farmers. How do we get united in common ideas and  views?

 

Q: Cattle provide so much for bio-diversity. New proposals are all bad for livestock   farmers.

 

Q: Around the Suffolk coast there are many farms around 200 acres. The playing field for small farmers is not fair because they lack the benefit of economy of scale.  How  do  we  get the ear of Government regarding the problem    of small farms? Smaller farms don’t know how   to talk to each other. A monitoring scheme  would be good. The CAP was set up  as  a  social programme. Its aim has been lost – small farmers are embarrassed as being  such.

 

Q: We should beware not to take our eye off the ball of food  security.

 

Q: The public should be educated that a cheap food  policy  is  no  good.  The average  annual

income of all citizens is £28,000. How big a farm is required to attain that  figure?

 

Q: There is no need to demonise the Barley Barons – just don’t give them   subsidies.

0.5% of National Expenditure is not much for the support of good land care. Good food is crucial  to health and welfare. Agribusiness should be curtailed and the NFU should  get  involved  in our work. Rewards should be given to worker/ acre ratio. Hiring labour has its social benefits. Matt Lobley says that is not a valid   argument.

 

Q: Labour on the land is a special case.  Farmers should get tax relief for employing workers. A serious debate is required to  enable people to get started on the land. The regime needs  to  be  introduced  to  discourage  people buying  land  for  tax  reasons  only.  Look  at the European system of New Entrant and retirement assistance.

 

Q: Local  food  banks  need  more  publicity.  The Oxford Farming Conference is a lobby for large scale farming, and pretty intimidating. It is always a platform for innovation. I praise the NT for their commitment to environmental schemes on their small scale tenanted  farms.

 

Q: There is no single way  of  measuring  the size of a “small farm”, 3ha? 4 to  5  staff  can often be the case on horticultural land. Perhaps  a standard labour requirement based on the physical size of the holding. Horticulture is a difficult case where subsidies are  concerned.

 

Q: The retail industry needs regulation. Farmers need a bigger slice of the end price of the food they produce. There is a need for politicians to  be made aware of the problems of small farmers and value their  importance.

 

Q (From the Prince’s Countryside Fund): There needs to be a mentoring programme for farmers, with consultants involved, to increase their resilience and to empower them to speak out  and  share information.

“Questions” soon evolved into comments, many interesting and constructive, and containing implied questions. The discussion had  to  be  cut off firmly at four o’clock. Was it strange that Brexit was hardly  mentioned?

It would be excellent if those present, on receiving this, would write in and expand their ideas and suggestions for   solutions.

 

 

 

                                                                                                  Pippa Woods (CBE)

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