Campaigning on Behalf
of Britain's Family Farms
Osborne Newton, Aveton Gifford, Kingsbridge, Tel: 01548 852794,
Newsletter Summer 2015
PRETTY MUCH MORE OF THE SAME
Most things in farming have not changed much in the first half of this year, in spite of a change of government. We even have the same Ministers in charge. Let us hope they will stay longer than many recent incumbents, and we are able to educate them satisfactorily. Milk remains a disaster area, with no end in site – as before, but more so. With cereals volatility is the name of the game – good for traders, it is said; farmers need good luck or good management to prosper. Beef is improving just now, but sheep are not doing so well.
Defra has still made no promises about culling badgers – something on which the survival of our cattle depends. TTIP remains a source of anxiety and controversy.
Why does the price of land remain so incredibly high? And why are the farming papers full of adverts for large and extremely expensive machinery, and more adverts for finance available for buying these machines? It is all a bit of a mystery to us smaller farmers who tick along as best we can, most of us having some time ago given up hope for milk. We are used to hard work, but some of us manage to find life satisfying without much financial reward – witness the joyfulness in some of the essays on family farming which our competition produced.
We are continuing our fight for a ceiling in CAP subsidy payments. If justice should prevail, perhaps the maximum subsidy figure should be set at the same level as the new maximum for welfare payments allowed to any individual family?
So what is new? A concise statement of measures which we believe could make a great difference to the farming scene – indeed to rural Britain as a whole. We have been working on this and mean to publicise it. Basically, it pains us that, with all kinds of services and welfare payments being cut, and drastically in some places, large cash payments continue to flow to all individuals who happen to own large farms. This is not just jealousy, it does disadvantage smaller farmers, who need special help. See the back page of this newsletter for our policy statement. People are increasingly wondering at the logic of giving subsidies to farmers purely on the basis of their size. If large farmers are really in need of so much help, why does the government continue to advocate an increase in farm size? If you approve our policy (see the last page), please promote it. It is on our website. With this newsletter, a personal letter is going to all our members, asking them to recruit for us. We also have vacancies on our committee, so if anyone would like to become a really active member, do please join, and help to promote our policies and run our annual mini conferences at Westminster. Please note the date this year is November 11th.
We came across an article by a Labour MEP, Paul Brannen, who evidently has the same feelings about large farms as we have. The problem is even worse in parts of the EU than here. He describes “farms of a size never before seen, and employing comparatively few workers …… the biggest one in Romania is 65,000 hectares”! Conversely, 84% of farms have fewer than 2 hectares. Farms in England have to have 5 hectares to be worthy of an area payment! His article points out that these huge farms are managed by “a new generation of investors not traditionally involved in the agricultural sector”. It would be very interesting to find out how many farms in Britain are owned, and run, by limited companies (not family ones) or corporations? Can we presume that such farms have long term objectives, and care for the environment, rural society, and all the other things we worry about? Surprisingly, Paul Brannen has a contemporary (at time of going to press) article in Farmers Weekly. In it he points out that the effect on the market of produce from these large agribusiness corporations is to drive down farmgate prices. No doubt this is why Defra is so keen on large farms. “Competitiveness“ is good for our economy - if food is cheap, manufacturers of consumer goods can flourish.
The article is headlined Future looks uncertain for small farmers. That is why we exist. We believe the public wants to see smaller farmers survive. We need you to tell this government so.
UN: only small farmers and agroecology can feed the world
The United Nations have a new Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. She is Professor Halil Elver, a distinguished academic who has been doing research in California, Malta and Turkey. She is very troubled about world hunger. In a recent speech she said “Empirical and scientific evidence show that small farmers feed the world. According to FAO 70% of food we consume globally comes from small farmers. Currently, most subsidies go to large agribusinesses. Governments must support small farmers.”
She criticised the vast subsidies going to large, monocultural agribusiness companies, and the fact that in the European Union about 80% of subsidies and 90% of research funding go to support conventional industrial agriculture. “Modern agriculture, which began in the 1950s, is more resource intensive, very fossil fuel dependent, using fertilizers and based on massive production. This policy has to change.
“Agroecology is a traditional way of using farming methods that are less resource oriented, and which work in harmony with society. New research in agroecology allows us to explore more effectively how we can use traditional knowledge to protect people and their environment at the same time.”
This question of the sustainability of our farming methods, and particularly of our soil, is coming more and more to the fore. Some scientists believe that much of our arable land is being so exhausted by intensive chemical farming that in another generation it will be impossible to grow arable crops on it.
The United Nations has convened a two day symposium on Agroecology, which it believes is an approach that will help to address the challenge of ending hunger and malnutrition. A Dutch scientist considers “agroecology is more than a science. It is also a social movement”.
It rather seems that traditional ways of farming are attracting academic attention, possibly more in other countries than in Britain. Perhaps we might get the research we have always wanted into the relative merits of small and large farms. Acres are limited, as is often pointed out. We need to know how to produce food in quantity, and make a living, from limited acres – and how to continue indefinitely without damaging our ecology.
A definition of agroecology: an ecological approach to agriculture that views agricultural areas as ecosystems and is concerned with the ecological impacts of agricultural policies.
On a more cheerful subject Sophie Scruton, a member, sent us a delightful description of her Open Farm Sunday, which is organized by Leaf – Linking Environment And Farming. Excerpts follow:
What a brilliant day we have had taking part in Open Farm Sunday. Thank you to everyone who came, we really appreciated your visit and your willingness to explore and take pleasure in the beautiful fields and views. The sun shone all day and there was a gentle breeze, enough to make walking up Sunday Hill a pleasure.
It was lovely to spend the whole day celebrating our farm. The spontaneous help our neighbours gave us in making the day a success was one of the best things. Friends worked with us to “tidy up”. A friend spent the morning talking to people and giving them a sense of how farming is something to take pleasure in, even though he is milking cows at 4 am every morning and battling for economic survival in the face of low milk prices.
I don’t think anyone went hungry, there were tea, coffee and cakes all day. Everything went so smoothly and naturally and seemed so easy thanks to our lovely visitors. We provided maps and information sheets so that visitors could understand what we had on offer. The stars were the animals, and I think many children made good friends with our horses, who all enjoyed the extra fuss and handfuls of hay. Our small herd of cows very much enjoyed looking at the visitors. (Open Farm Sunday, always held in June, now seems to have a very high standard, and involves quite a lot of work. Something well worth doing if you can cope. Otherwise go to one and enjoy it.)
Some interesting quotations to end with:
Defra, re our suggestion of ceilings: “Successful farms should not be penalized.”
(This has been repeated elsewhere and may be the basis of Defra or Tory policy.)
David Richardson in FW: “All shortage and glut do is to hand more power to big operators, But the world needs small operators too.” Also “Free markets are too blunt an instrument for food”. And so say all of us!
A member when notifying his change of address: “You stand for freedom and the individual in an increasingly totalitarian, controlled world.” A lovely compliment!