Harvest’s good gifts come at a price
In the wake of the Government’s pledge to finance farming until 2020, Cumbrian farmer Douglas Chalmers explains why the industry will still need public money post Brexit
IMAY be part-time and ours may be a small farm, but we feed people, care for a patch of Cumbria’s rich tapestry of landscape and are affected by the Treasury’s decision to support UK agriculture —with the same amount of money as it received from the EU (Town & Country, August 24)— until 2020. This gives the industry time to build a new agricultural policy that’s fit for purpose, not one we’ve had to cobble together.
It’s exciting that, for the first time in more than 40 years, we can write our own rural policies, but we have to get them right. The farming lobby is already arguing that we should be more self-sufficient, but if we started feeding ourselves with only home-produced food from January 1, we’d run out by early August. Our farmers must be allowed to produce food and most people want us to do so.
National Trust chief Helen Ghosh has called for farm support to be available only for wildlife and the environment. Everything else—food production, water quality, flood management and holidays—should be covered by food manufacturers, utility companies and the tourism industry.
Sadly, very few farm businesses are viable without Common Agricultural Policy support, especially in the uplands. We need to clarify that this support is no longer the ‘subsidies’ we were uncomfortable with and hasn’t been for 10 years. Farmers are not encouraged to produce as much as possible, regardless of the market or their effect on the environment. In fact, they produce despite the market.
Farm support doesn’t push up the price of food in the shops—it should pull it down, as produce can, and does, leave the farm at less than the cost of production. Without the fixed basic payment per hectare, many farms, especially family ones, would go under.
Food manufacturers’ responsibilities are to their shareholders, so why should they pay farmers more than they have to? Yes, some businesses do try to ensure they pay producers a fair price, but these deals are usually linked to the cost of production, plus a fixed margin.
Much of farm produce is a commodity and, because of seasonality, perishability, storage limitations or cashflow, farmers usually have to be ‘price takers’. With addedvalue opportunities limited to niche products,
Fields of gold: our farmers aren’t just food producers, they are the guardians of our landscape