Campaigning on Behalf

of Britain's Family Farms

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


Newsletter Autumn 2016 Brexit – Threat or Opportunity? Countless organizations are setting to work to devise, and then promote, plans for life outside the EU.   The NFU is organizing large scale discussions with its members on “Shaping a new and dynamic future for agriculture and horticulture”    The CPRE (Council for the Protection of Rural England) is calling for subsidies to be reorganized and directed to smaller, more innovative and mixed farms.   Many other charities involved in countryside activities, and various farming organizations, are setting to work to devise a perfect farming scenario.   What is ours? It has to include a varied, and if possible beautiful, countryside nurtured by people who are able to make a decent living by caring for it.   The primary product should, of course, be healthy and nourishing food in quantity.   The secondary product should be the well being of ordinary people, as it is now becoming increasingly recognized that open air activity is beneficial to health and happiness – people need the countryside. Now is the time to have a proper study into both the practicalities of and the reasons for supporting farming.    What are subsidies for?    They could, and should, have a dual purpose: to encourage food production and to keep the countryside alive.    Their current benefit is reducing the price of food in the supermarkets.   They are absolutely essential for supporting small mixed farms.    Without subsidies very little lamb or beef would be produced, and the scenic parts of Britain would be a lot less scenic. Our policy paper (on the website) recommends fiscal studies into questions such as is unlimited Inheritance Tax relief desirable, or should it be adjusted by total value and/or how long the land has been in the family?   Are there fiscal measures which would help to make starting a farm easier?   Should very short tenancies be allowed?  What should be the ceiling on the basic payment?   How should the money raised by modulation be distributed? The Basic Farm Payment is something in the region of £180/hectare, varying according to the relative value of the pound and the euro. This often represents the total profit of smaller farms, hopefully providing a basic income on which to live.   But to what extent is this really necessary for farms of over a thousand hectares which have economies of scale?   It has always been our policy that there should be a ceiling on the basic subsidy, as these very large payments tempt corporations and excessively rich individuals into the land market.   Prices are out of reach of ordinary individual would be farmers. Surely we should now have a proper investigation into the financing of farmers and food production.   Are subsidies good value for money?    It would be easier to decide if we knew more about the ownership of the really big farms.   Traditionally there were big estates, owned by landed gentry who managed them, hopefully, in a public spirited way.   They often let individual farms to independent farmers.   It would be really interesting to know how much of our country is now owned by limited companies, and, further, how many of these are foreign owned.                                                                   ****************** Research initiated by The Prince’s Countryside Fund, and carried out by Exeter University, has been going into The Future of the Small Family Farm, “a one to two person farm.”  It studies in detail many aspects of small farms, including their specific characteristics, and what they contribute to agriculture, the rural economy and the countryside. One of the objectives was “to identify the extent and pace of change in the number of small farms”.   This was done partly by examining in detail how farms changed in a certain parish.  Interestingly, we did much the same thing many years before.   In 1990, in an informal and amateur way, we (FFA) surveyed seventeen parishes in different parts of England.  We thought the results were significant, if not strictly scientific, as they showed that in the twenty years since 1970, 37% of the farms in these parishes had lost their full time status.   Would that we had enough keen members to discover what has happened after another twenty five years! To go back to the proper research; the report mentions “The infamous agricultural treadmill [which] means that ever larger volumes of output are needed for farm business incomes just to stand still in net income terms…… Both small and medium sized farms make a loss on their agricultural account.”  In fact many smaller farmers just continue to farm out of habit.   The quality of life is much appreciated – it is very unfortunate that it is so difficult to make a living from just growing things.   Adding value and actively marketing the product can be a solution.   But not every farmer has the appetite, or the skill needed, for more specialist activities. The research discovered a great variety among small farmers in many aspects of their lives.   Some accepted poverty, others aspired to grow their businesses.  Some were conventional and traditional in their methods, others were innovative in their farming and/or in devising non farming ways of supplementing their farm income.   Some were active in their communities, but others were working too hard on their farms.   The family aspect was often important, some families having been farming for several generations in the same area. The report says that, as normally many people retire from work, the near future will see many small farmers retiring.   “What is of concern to us is whether the ranks of these small farmers can be replenished by active and economically vibrant new small farms or whether, as seems more likely unless current trends are modified or reversed, their land and property is taken up by a combination of expanding large farms and residential life-style purchasers”. There are 17 recommendations at the end.    Some are on advice to help farm businesses to become more resilient, some on ways for the agricultural community to be more supportive, and some on how “policy makers” should help. As a result of this study, the Prince’s Countryside Fund has launched a major new scheme.   The Farm Resilience Programme, is designed to help around 300 vulnerable family farms each year   It will provide workshops and one to one guidance, and give farmers the tools to evaluate their long term stability.   The £1.5 million five year programme builds on the success of the Prince’s Dairy Initiative.   Speaking at its launch,, The Prince of Wales said “The small farms which have been such an integral part of Britain’s landscape for thousands of years are under threat.”   His Countryside Fund does a lot to help them. For a full report of the research and more information on The Farm Resilience programme, visit the Prince’s Countryside Fund website.                                                             ****************************** It is a great relief to cattle farmers that more badger culls are being carried out at last.Everybody knows that badgers have TB and can transmit it to cows: also that where there has been a TB problem in other parts of the world the only solution has been to remove the wildlife which is carrying it.   It is most unfortunate that those opposed to the present culling of badgers do not direct their energies into persuading Defra to set to work to identify the badger setts that are infected so that only those need be eliminated. The fact that so many farmers are working so hard on culling, and have to pay a considerable amount of money to take part, is a good indication of how desperate they are about the still high incidence of TB.   When it strikes, a dairy farmer may get compensated for the actual cows slaughtered, but he loses all the money those cows would have earned in the rest of their lives.   Replacing cows can be depressing if the source of infection is still on the farm and the new cows also succumb to TB.    If a beef farmer has to have calves slaughtered, he may get a few hundred pounds for each calf, but he will never get the more substantial sum they would have produced as mature beef. The threat of TB does not only cause serious anxiety.     The constant testing of the cattle to see if they are infected is expensive, and even physically dangerous.  Testing is bad enough in the winter, when most of the beasts are indoors   It is really tough in the summer when every animal must be rounded up from its grazing, brought back home and forced through a cattle crush twice.   Extra help must be hired for this sometimes complicated exercise.   (Those who are not familiar with the procedure should understand that the first session is to inject the tuberculin, the second, three days later, is to “read” the result.   Definite infection produces a swelling.)    You have to pass two tests to be listed as free of TB.   If you fail a test, you must continue testing every two months until you succeed in passing two tests sixty days apart. There was a rumour that there has been less TB lately, but it is going as strongly as ever in South Devon.    It is reported that some farmers have found it all so stressful that they have abandoned beef production.   People opposed to culling Badgers have stated their intention is to cause maximum interruption and nuisance in order to increase the cost of policing!    They have published phone numbers of participating farmers.    If they really cared for wildlife they should be glad to get rid of pests that prey on hedgehogs and all small wild creatures found at ground level, as well as killing chickens and raiding gardens. The fact that badgers are spreading Mycobacterium bovis around the countryside is a serious matter.   Public Health England writes to owners of farms which have “been found to have cattle with TB…..because of the potential public health implications”.   The letter goes on to say that infection of humans by M bovis is rare.  A leaflet from HM Government explains that most human TB is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis.   “It is not possible to distinguish the symptoms of human TB caused by M bovis from those caused by M tuberculosis.   The course and extent of the disease is the same.”   So is the treatment.   The incidence of human TB caused by M bovis is given as 1% of total TB cases, but it doesn’t say what the total is.    The BBC reported that TB is one of the diseases that now has some resistance to antibiotic treatment.   Surely it is really important to clear M bovis from the countryside before it increases still further?    The hope is that if badgers were reduced to their previous low population their TB would gradually diminish. (I have noticed that many people do not understand the difference between the two kinds of TB.   I hope these quotations make it clear.   Ed.)   Westminster meetingOur usual open meeting will be on Wednesday the first of February next year.    Luckily we now have a new(ish) friend in the House of Commons, the Welsh MP. Chris Davies.He has again succeeded in booking our favourite Jubilee Room.   Matt Lobley, one ofthe Exeter professors who did the above mentioned research has agreed to come and tell us more about what he discovered.     We are also hoping to have a somewhat controversial figure, but cannot promise, as it has not yet been invited! So do make a note of the date – assuming you already have a calendar or diary for 2017.And please tell us if you are coming, and try to encourage more people to come.   It is rather nerve wracking putting on a meeting when nobody has booked!    The free discussions always seem to be both enjoyable and productive.   If you are on good terms with your MP get him or her at least to look in.   They are the ones who have to invent a new strategy for supporting farming.   More details in the winter newsletter. Editor’s section:Some people, or organizations, would like to have our newsletters by email.    We hope that if they arrive by post they are more likely to be read at leisure.   But if you would like an email copy, please email your email address and we can forward copies by that means if you wish. CBEI was quite astonished to be notified in June that I had been awarded a CBE in the Queen’s birthday honours!!!   It was for services to farming and the community.I have no idea at all who might have nominated me. Why me, and do I deserve it?   That is not for me to say.   But it is wonderful news that small family farming is an activity worthy of recognition in high places. I can only think that, amazingly, somebody has noticed that I have been on the same campaign for a very long time, that is since before 1970.   That year the Duke of Edinburgh convened a London conference on “The Countryside in 1970”.    I was invited and managed to make a short contribution, declaring that “I did not expect to be paid extra for farming in a civilized way.”   It was actually quoted in a parliamentary debate soon after.    I would not say that now, and it shows how times have changed. My husband and I had bought a 112 acre farm for £10,000 in 1954.    In 1970 we were living comfortably (in the sense that we could afford to hire plenty of help), having added a little more land, built new buildings and generally got the farm in working order – all from profit, plus, especially at first, quite generous help from MAFF.   In those days the government approved of small farms. In 1970 a small farm was still profitable, but the problem was to acquire one.   There was much correspondence in the farming press about the difficulty of getting started.    Also the government enthusiasm for small was noticeably waning.    So some of us got together and decided we needed an association to try and improve the image, and practicality, of small farming. The rest is history.   In 1979 “The Small Farmers’ Association” was inaugurated with considerable support.    Over the years we went through various phases, having, at one time, financial backing from the Goldsmith Foundation, and with that help formed an unfortunately short lived Federation of Family Farming Organizations with other parts of the British Isles.     There seemed to be more interest in the social or human problems related to farming in those days.   The NFU even worked hard on “the family farmer problem”. However, with enormous technical improvements arriving, it became possible for one enterprise to produce much larger quantities of food, resulting in lower prices for all.   Therefore it was no longer economic to produce food in small quantities, and small farms found life increasingly difficult.    The quality of life was much appreciated, but actual cash was very scarce.  Adding value and marketing the product was the obvious solution.   But people good at growing food are not necessarily expert at more complicated activities. As the difficulties became more serious, more associations were born, with the same objectives as us, and some even with generous start up grants.    But these have largely faded away, mainly because most farmers are now too busy making their living to help manage an organization, unless ii produces immediate practical benefits for them.   We are still alive (and solvent), but we need more members.   If you would like to know more about our policies visit our modest website. My final message is:   will non farming readers please join to support us.   (You don’t need to be a farmer.)  Will farming members please come forward to our committee and help manage our community organization.                                                                                                   Pippa Woods (CBE)   

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