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Could British farmers build a vote-bank and influence policy?

Originally published on the FDF website

On another website, we read that in India, farmers only appear on the economic radar screen of the country when elections are around the corner (original source: Ground Reality).

Not so in UK. Whereas 43% are employed in Indian agriculture, British farmers and employees registered to vote are only 1% of the country’s population according to the World Bank’s interesting list and so are not regarded as politically significant, despite their vital role.

Is building a vote-bank the British farmers’ only chance of a fair deal?

A call, not to back a particular party or candidate but a policy such as the one set out by Farmers for Action (NI) and other farm groups (below), which commissioned the drafting of a parliamentary bill on farmgate prices. If successful it would return farmers a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked across the staples. 

A vote-bank could be built by enlisting the support of the public and those who do business with dairy farmers:

  • feed mills
  • vets
  • contractors
  • hauliers
  • retailers
  • teachers
  • auctioneers
  • merchants
  • tradesmen
  • machinery suppliers 

Juliette Jowit of the Financial Times summarised: “As farm incomes fall thousands of jobs go in allied industries: vets, feed and machinery suppliers”. (Farmers suffer under the yoke of global forces, 2.5.00) 

Douglas Chalmers, when regional director for the Country Land and Business Association [North], said “Agriculture . . . supports jobs and services in the local villages and often the larger towns, especially if there is a market . . . As farming loses critical mass, all the agriculturally dependent businesses become unsustainable, and with no vets, marts, hauliers and merchants, further pressure is felt by those who have continued to farm . . .” He continues:

“We ask for a fair deal: that those who set policies and impose legislation consider the wider and real effects of their actions on individuals, farms and businesses in rural areas”. FG: 9.1.04

  • Some years ago David and Rosemary Jones of Trebersed Farm, Carmarthen, highlighted the importance of farming to the rural economy by presenting their accounts which reveal that in an eight-month period they paid 117 separate rural businesses and companies for work done or goods supplied. The yearly total is estimated at 130 suppliers. Rural economy: Farmers Guardian 19.3.99 
  • Ruth and Richard Burrows, Devonshire farmers, assembled suppliers representing 3000 others whose livelihoods depend on them and other farmers. A photograph was taken with notes giving the names and roles of the people pictured. Mrs Burrows said: “They are living proof of the importance of the spending power of the farmer and how enormously important agriculture is in terms of the entire economic structure around here. The rural communities of Britain tick over on a system of mutual dependency of which the farm often forms the hub. If it goes to the wall, dozens of ancillary trades suffer. The web of rural ruin, Richard Price, Daily Mail, 23.9.99

The problems being faced by dairy farmers do not stop at the farm gate but threaten the thousands of other business and jobs both locally and nationally.

Maintaining viable dairy farms not only protects livelihoods of farming families and others directly involved, it also makes a major contribution to local economies and the future of businesses, jobs, and families in the locality.

That is the key message from dairy farmer’s wife, Kathleen Calvert (left), who asks for a fair deal for dairy farmers who receive a significantly lower share of the retail milk price than they did ten years ago, despite considerably higher costs:

“Payment which covers production costs and overheads must be the norm for British food producers. This money will circulate around individual rural communities through the supply of professional goods and services to the prime producer, helping to provide a diverse range of other employment opportunities that support individual families within rural communities.”

Dugdale Nutrition, one of the 60 local businesses with which she trades, specialises in feeds for ruminant animals, its core market being dairy farming. This means its 49 employees and their families rely heavily in turn on local dairy farms for their livelihood. Matthew Dugdale, managing director of this company which has supplied the Calvert family for three generations, explains: “Dairy farming is like any business, needing a fair and sustainable price for its product to ensure a fair income for the long hours worked and a decent return on the often large amounts of capital employed, and very importantly, surplus profit to reinvest for the future.”

Locally based businesses circulate profits within the communities they serve. In turn they are reliant on viable, widespread and profitable farm businesses adding immense value to local economies. It is in their interests to see that farmers get a fair price for their produce.

 

 

 

 

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A politician-farmer who sees beyond the globalised market system which benefits the middleman, not the food producer

henry gentOn a recent Radio 4 Farming Today programme, Henry Gent, of Mosshayne Farm near Exeter set out policies which would be welcomed by all who care about food quality and security.

Information has been extracted from the Western Morning News and the Green Party website.

We learn that Mr Gent, who farms 500 acres at Broadclyst, near Exeter (milk and vegetables), joined the party in 2010 after becoming increasingly concerned by the threat posed by climate change. Since then he has worked on a new policy for the party, looking towards a more sustainable future for the industry and addressing both the needs of consumers and producers.

This site welcomes these reflections in particular:

“Our food production systems are now seen as part of a globalised market, where the trend is for more industrialisation; that puts the profits of multinationals before the health of consumers and the quality of food we eat. With a very small number of very large processors and retailers dominating the industry more and more small farmers and producers are finding that if they cannot meet the demands of these companies then there is no alternative route to market . . . For me to get potatoes into Exeter three miles away, I have to send them to Shropshire, East Anglia or Scotland to get them packed. “That is mad. We have got to work out a set of policies that reduces food miles to make it more sustainable – get local fresh food into local shops, schools, hospitals and restaurants. Government has paid only “lip service” to the issue, despite a number of initiatives.”

And the former Fair Deal Food Council would have appreciated:

‘It’s a scandal how producers can be paid less than it costs to produce something, especially when cost cutting will impact not just on the farmers and their staff but also on the welfare of the animals. It is not surprising that the number of dairy farmers has halved in ten years, and we import 20% of dairy produce, many good family farms have sold up and ceased production. It’s not hard to see that the next step will be the producers and their big business cronies saying ‘well as these small businesses aren’t viable the only answer is mega dairies’. With far too many cows already being kept indoors all the time in large dairies this is a trend we must resist. Cows should be eating grass, not soya [which is destroying the rainforests] and other protein crops shipped from across the world that ought to be feeding people.

Henry Gent summarises: “We need a different approach, which follows common sense: family farms should be treated fairly, as they are in other countries in Europe, and should not have to compete against imports of cheap food produced in environmentally damaging ways or under inferior animal welfare standards”.