For many years international agencies have promoted a school of thought that says it is cheaper to import food than to grow it within the country, comments Devinder Sharma (below, right).
In December he told Rediff.com’s Syed Firdaus Ashraf:
“Rural Gujarat has voted against the influential ruling BJP. During the 2014 elections, Prime Minister Narendra D Modi had promised that if elected his government would give 50% profit over the cost of production as recommended by the (M S) Swaminathan committee and rural India voted conclusively for the BJP – but farmers are still waiting for the promise to be delivered”.
“The Reserve Bank of India’s governor used to say that the biggest reforms would be when farmers are moved out from the villages into the cities, because cities are need of cheaper labour. Cheaper labour is required for infrastructure, real estate and highways. In other words, agriculture is being sacrificed to keep economic reforms alive”.
Farmers need a fair price: cost of production plus
An article by Lancashire farmer, Kathleen Calvert, issued as a press release by local business, Dugdale Nutrition, stressed:
“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”.
Ruth and Richard Burrows, Devonshire farmers, assembled suppliers representing 3000 others whose livelihoods depend on them and other farmers. A photograph was published (right, faded newsprint, The web of rural ruin, Richard Price, Daily Mail, 23.9.99) 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 forms the hub. If it goes to the wall, dozens of ancillary trades in both town and countryside suffer”. Read more here.
Farmers organise politically in UK
As talks are under way at Stormont, William Taylor, speaks for Northern Ireland Farm Groups, which represents several food production sectors – now including the National Beef Association – and is concerned about the future of 25,000 SME family farmer businesses.
A bill, written by Daniel Greenberg, a barrister who specialises in legislation and is Editor of OUP’s Statute Law Review, is to be taken forward.
It proposes that farmgate prices in NI return to farmers a minimum of the cost of production, plus a margin inflation linked, that would give 20,000+ new jobs and prosperity across the province in towns, cities and countryside alike.
Their proposals have been well-received by several parties and unions, and Claire Sugden from Coleraine, Independent (the Justice Minister in the former assembly) told the farm groups that ‘she was of a mind to take legislation on farm gate prices forward’.
Legislation on farmgate prices for Northern Ireland according to the Gosling Report, would return 10-20,000 jobs+, save Stormont £280million+ in welfare costs and bring prosperity back to Northern Ireland.
In both countries, as Sharma comments, “What farmers need is income, a profit over the cost of production. To keep food inflation in control, successive government have denied farmers their rightful income”.
Northern Ireland Farm Groups including Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA) and Farmers For Action (FFA) coming together on the issue of legislation on farm gate prices, released the following statement in August:
NI farm gate prices are by far the biggest issue for Northern Ireland farmers and the Northern Ireland economy, only followed by Brexit and the far from solved border issue for Ireland north and south.
Food Corporates and Co-op food processors face relentless farm gate price pressure actions continue to make the case for farm gate price legislation . . . It’s time for Stormont’s politicians to get back to work and prove they value Northern Ireland’s farming families and the top quality home grown food they produce, including their link to Northern Ireland’s prosperity. They must get back into Stormont and start processing the farm gate price legislation bill proposed by NI Farm Groups.
Every day Stormont doesn’t sit to act on this vital issue is costing Northern Ireland approximately £1million per day; this is made up of £280million inflation linked per annum on rural welfare support and jobs, according to the Gosling Report.
Farmers For Action have now issued a message to dairy farmers considering term contracts for a large or small portion of their milk, summarised here:
William Taylor, FFA NI co-ordinator, states that “Across the main news we now find that the large food corporates are seeking to Brexit-proof food prices – roughly translated Brexit-proof their profits – and hold off their competition. How can it be right for dairy farmers or any other farmers to sign contracts that are grossly under the cost of production and not inflation linked, merely to facilitate food corporate profit taking.” He continues:
“Co-ops are going out and taking the business from the large food retailers and food wholesalers on mainly the lowest price basis to eliminate competition, then come back to the farmer for their profit . . . This has to be wrong, in that it will never return sufficient money to the farmer members of any co-op.
“The job of a CEO of a dairy co-op is to employ good salesmen and implement a policy of selling a quality product time after time, build up a reputation for dependability and above all know when the market is saturated and when it is not, as is currently the case, and use this to advantage – always have a selling edge and always look for new outlets . . .
“Above all, in order to earn any credibility from their farmer member-owners, good co-ops should be able to sell milk above the price of bottled water and never be a bargain basement seller”.
Points to remember:
- any contracts being currently touted in Northern Ireland must be checked legally; sign nothing without good legal advice.
- remember, the true cost of production ‘without profit’ repeatedly coming back from Europe’s most efficient producers via European Milk Board is just over 40p/l.
William Taylor concluded, “Consider carefully before you sign your family into possible debt for the sake of food corporate and co-op profits with non-inflation linked under-the-cost-of-production contracts.
Legislation on farmgate prices across the staples is ultimately the answer and we are making progress!”
56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU
Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624
The full text of both messages will be emailed to anyone who would like to learn more – just ask using the comments mechanism.
On BBC Radio 4 today it was reported that some supermarkets are limiting sales of fruit and vegetables.
A newspaper elaborates: “Morrisons and Tesco have limited the amount of lettuce and broccoli after flooding and snow hit farms in Spain. Shortages of other household favourites – including cauliflower, cucumbers, courgettes, oranges, peppers and tomatoes – are also expected. Prices of some veg has rocketed 40% due to the freak weather. Sainsburys admitted weather has also affected its stocks”.
HortiDaily reports on frost in Europe in detail (one of many pictures below) and the search for supplies from Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia.
A former Greenpeace Economist foresees these and more persistent problems in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism.
. . . if they continue to ‘reboot’ farm policy in favour of small family farms
“Not only do small family farms (defined as covering less than 250 acres and requiring the labour of one or two people) employ more people per acre and provide a wider variety of locally produced food than larger farms, but there is increasing evidence that they are less damaging to the environment.”
This passage in the latest Private Eye (1429) mentioned research findings published in a new state funded study carried out in the Netherlands and an online search added detail from the FT.
Dr Lidwien Smit, an environmental epidemiologist at Utrecht University, found that the biggest contribution to deaths linked with air pollution in Europe comes from agriculture, as risky to breathe as that in a traffic congested city.
She recommends that intensive farms in particular should be subjected to the same strict pollution rules as other industries.
In September, the study was presented to the European Respiratory Society’s international congress in London. Professor Stephen Holgate, the society’s science council chair said that the findings underline the need for governments to take tougher action on farm pollution: “It raises a very important issue; there needs to be much better monitoring of intensive farming’s pollution plumes that spread out across the neighbourhood”.
Private Eye reports that DEFRA is to use part of a £16m EU emergency dairy aid fund to help farmers ‘hit’ by very low milk prices to encourage grass-based farming systems.
The NFU, whose ‘lobby’ is often said to be dominated by large farmers that pay the biggest subscriptions) has, however, made ‘counter proposals’.
The farmer who writes for Private Eye, hopes – as we do – that DEFRA will ‘stick to its guns’ and also that all the UK’s regional governments and national assemblies will go on to make discrimination in favour of small-scale family farms central to farm policy in post-Brexit Britain.
Milk, fruit and vegetables will eventually be imported, unless British food producers are fairly paid
The FT reports that Asda also justified the low prices paid to farmers saying they were set by global supply and demand.
First Milk, the farmer-owned group, one of the UK’s biggest dairy co-operatives, has suspended payments to around 1,200 farmers for two weeks. The company said that returns had fallen 50% in the past year and yet – the FT reports – farm costs are 36% higher than they were in 2007 and the single largest cost component of a dairy farm, animal feed, is more than 50% higher.
A table from an 2007 overview: Snapshot of farming in the UK, on the BBC website (below), will be of interest to readers news to the subject. Recent price cuts mean that farmers are facing milk prices of just 20p a litre, the lowest since 2007 according to the NFU said, but the following graph indicates an earlier date.
‘Fiddling while Rome burns’, DEFRA promotes involvement with the volatile global casino: “It is important to remember that the long-term prospects are bright with exports at record levels.”
Is there any future for those who produce perishable food and are currently held to ransom – unless they join forces and demand prices covering production costs?