An agricultural revolution?

One of the drivers of growth and prosperity in eighteenth century England was agricultural advance. Farmers threw capital and technology at the problem of farming. Larger farms were created. Threshing, hoeing and seed drilling were done by newly developed machines. Crop rotations and selective breeding led to big advances in agricultural output.

Today we stand on the threshold of another possible agrarian revolution. The coming of the intelligent tractor with wide arms for spraying, and  capabilities for ploughing, preparing, seeding and tending the crop  is transforming quality of output as well as changing the demand for labour. Drones offer less intrusive ways of watering and spraying selectively as problems and shortages are detected in parts of a field or crop. Raising  animals is becoming more science based, with better information about their health and well being informing choices for their care.

The UK has a great opportunity to grow its agriculture  as we come out of the CAP. The main parties are all ready to continue with subsidy. The government has   promised to carry on with the subsidies farmers were expecting from Brussels this decade.

Some argue the main aim of subsidy should be to remunerate farmers for their role as landscape gardeners on a grand scale. Much of the EU system now is designed to reward environmental work, giving subsidy for keeping land fallow or for nurturing certain types of landscape or nature reserve on or near farmland.  The Swiss system out of the EU is about keeping the unique Swiss mountain landscapes, as an adjunct to tourism and hospitality which feed off the views.

Some argue the main aim should be about food production. Farmers could be rewarded for cutting imports and producing more of the types of food we need and can  grow at home. The EU system used to be more completely based on such an approach.. The policy  was born of post war angst in memory of the dreadful shortages of food that occurred during and in the aftermath of the 2nd world war. Later the EU system evolved to take environmental considerations much more into account.

Do we think current EU policy is well judged? How do farmers want the UK government to develop its own agriculture policy, safe in the knowledge that there is no present threat to the subsidies farmers receive? There is a  big opportunity to grow more at home for the home market, and to invest more in the new husbandry that will raise productivity.



  1. Lifelogic
    May 2, 2017

    State subsidies are nearly always a very bad idea. Just a way of keeping people doing things that would be better not done, and for them to find competitive alternative ways to earn a living or of using the land. Land prices would then adjust to appropriate levels market levels.

    Subsidies for faming, “the arts”, forestry, the absurd green crap subsidies, the subsidies for the feckless, the train/transport subsidies, the BBC subsidies and nearly all the state subsidies should go. They harm productivity, keep people in pointless jobs, kill more efficient competition & make the UK uncompetitive in the world. The “free” at the point of use NHS and state education systems do exactly the same.

    Businesses should have to sell something to a willing customer who is happy to pay, not lobby the governments for a share of money that has been extracted from people under threat of imprisonment. Leaving the EU give us freedom to make these sensible changes. Alas it seems that socialist May wants even more intervention and even to build on such EU lunacies.

    1. Dennis Zoff
      May 2, 2017

      All that John is saying is true, though tacit! ..and one wonders why the UK government has not supported and pursued such ideas in the past (quite the reverse)…again, tacit!

      However, you Lifelogic, have nailed it.

      This country has been managed by politicians for politicians, for elites and self-interest minority groups for many years. The political lack of common sense; real resolve; self-interest policy appeasement; non-erudite misguided judgments; personal rapacity, along with incredulous ineptitude with regard to the required technical capabilities in the modern world has been, and continues to remain, painfully obvious!

      My personal engagement and experience with politicians from the UK and overseas have been rather disheartening! So long as we have vested interest “Human Nature avarice” the obvious will continued to be ignored!

    2. Jerry
      May 2, 2017

      @LL; What utter bull***. Farming is not like a business making widgets, we can live without widgets, we need home grown food to survive as an independent nation!

      Just a though, something you do not do Mr Lifelogic, are not tax breaks and allowances not also a form of state subsidy, so in your capitalist utopia there would be no more mortgage tax relief, no more off-setting losses or depreciation against tax either etc?…

      1. David Price
        May 2, 2017

        You need to move with the time me old fruit!

        The latest is to grow food crops indoors with controlled lighting, environment and nutrients looking for all the world like a production line – google vertical farming. This enables food production to be brought close to the consumer, cuts down on transportation use and can be more reactive to the local market demands.

        There is also at least one company looking to bring salmon farming indoors and close to the consumer.

        Food production needs to operate very much as a business just like any other.

        1. Jerry
          May 3, 2017

          @David Price; That will still be agriculture duh! You need to find a clue – old fruit…

          Also just because someone thinks they can make (more) money from such a system it will be the consumer who decides, and all the movement is away from factory farming and GM, why would supermarkets waste ever more shelf space on free-range and organic if people wanted processed/forced foods etc. Not that I have any concerns about GM but many do.

          You can lead a horse to water but you sure as hell can’t make then drink, never have, never will.

  2. Christine
    May 2, 2017

    Food production has to be cost effective. The current system whereby the farmer and the supermarket make a profit but the tax payer is subsidising the product has to go. I have no problem with the Government assisting in innovation which will see long term cost reductions and increased productivity. This should be encouraged. What we can’t sustain is the subsidies via the UK benefit system which pulls in migrant labour from across the World by topping up low pay with Tax Credits, Housing Benefit and Child Benefit. What is the point of selling a bag of carrots for 60p if that same bag has cost the tax payer £1 to produce?

  3. oldtimer
    May 2, 2017

    The agricultural industry should move with the times – improve its productivity, choice and quality like all other industries need to do to, first to survive and then to grow and prosper. New Zealand agriculture appears to have evolved to manage without the huge subsidies it used to receive and continue to compete in the world market place. The encouragement of tourism in the countryside is, it seems to me, part of the package if it provides economic benefits to those that live there.

  4. eeyore
    May 2, 2017

    The productive landscape that JR talks about, that of the big arable farms, is not the tourist landscape. For that one goes to the 150-acre family farms on marginal land, where every beast dies in debt and farmers operate in a micro-economy of incomes so small that the minimum wage is a vision of financial heaven.

    Their average age is 59. In ten years they’ll be gone, worn out by labour, loneliness, poverty, worry and an 80-hour week. Young people are not coming forward to take their place.

    In Britain we have simultaneously an obesity epidemic, food so cheap that a third is thrown away, and a farmers’ suicide rate twice the national average and the highest of any job. Is there a connection?

  5. Caterpillar
    May 2, 2017

    It is not clear that subsidies should be maintained in the longer term, particularly as in the EU large expenditure has flowed to a small population (some already wealthy) and then they are protected by trade barriers. Cheap food security from a world supply chain without barriers does sound an appealing future.

    From a health point of view the UK might though need to move its culture towards quality not quantity (above necessity vitamins and calories). We are an overweight nation and might benefit from such a cultural (neo-Japanese) view of food. Whilst the supermarkets have at least been trying to hold the line on maintaining the appearance of fruit and vegetables, such that the appeal of such healthy food might be wider, even this has recently been criticised by the select committee. More competition from world imports at the low price end, might hopefully drive the UK to focus on quality, taste and health, with the positive externalities that follow.

  6. Mark B
    May 2, 2017

    Good morning.

    Subsidies should be very specific and done on a real need basis. This is because it can create dependency, inefficiency, over or underproduction, distorted markets, and unfair competition leading to sanctions / tariff’s.

    In so many ways a well meaning government can in time cause more harm than good. It takes money from productive parts of the economy and gives it to non-productive parts – why ?

    We saw right from the 50’s to the late 70’s of what State support does. Most concerns at that time to be fair were Nationalised companies, highly unionised and therefore highly political. They were much like that that I have mentioned above. So why do the same with private businesses ?

    I am not advocating removing subsidies to farmers full-stop, but, it is clear to me that we cannot keep giving subsidies forever and to whoever for whatever. We simply do not have the money.

  7. alan jutson
    May 2, 2017

    Whilst I tend to agree that Government should encourage farmers to maximise production for home consumption or perhaps export, I have reservations about subsidies and the way they work in practice.
    Farming is a business all be it to a degree weather dependent, but it is not alone in that regard.

    Certainly business, any business, is helped by having knowledge, be that about supply and demand, new ways of production, with investment new plant and equipment and efficient working.
    Managing land is not too dissimilar to managing any other asset, if you look after it well, it will repay you in productive input, so it is in the best interests of the farmers or land owners to use their assets wisely, to maximise income in both the short and long term.

    Clearly there should be some minimum standards for livestock, but subsidies ?

    I see it is reported that New Zealand has now withdrawn all farming subsidies recently after a period of sensible and gradual reduction, with as yet no negative response, it will be interesting to see what effects this will cause (if any) in the medium and longer term.
    We should monitor this programme with interest.

  8. Lifelogic
    May 2, 2017

    Amber Rudd just now on BBC1 – As Home Sectretary she (T May) ran a very sucessful department reducing crime and controlling immigration.

    Well not really Amber. She sent a few rather unpleasant “go home immigrants” advertising trucks around Hounslow(?) and even lied to the nation (to try to trick them into a remain vote in the referendum) that we had contol of our borders through Schengen. She must surely have known this to be a lie. May also made denouncing the Human Rights Act and demanding Britain’s withdrawal from the European convention on human rights a major theme of her Tory party conference speeches, but now seems to have dropped even this.

    I do not trust her at all, she clearly has totally misguided, interventionist, Milibandesque economic policies too. Let us hope that post the election the small sensible wing of the Tories can control her dafter tendencies.

  9. John
    May 2, 2017

    For that technological revolution to happen there needs to be some restriction on the access to cheap migrant labour.

    1. Hope
      May 2, 2017

      The EU regulations for environment imposed by the Environment Agency were a main contributor to flooding. Madness. We are now paying three times in our taxes for flood defense, insurance premium imposed by Osborne, £1.5 billion for the defunct EA and twice in our community charge! It needs to stop immediately and theTory govt provide value for money. Farmers need to get back to milk production and the govt needs to help after so many herds were dispatched as it became unprofitable.nfar better to have pastures than useless green lobby crops causing floods.

      Osborne attacking Brexit and May in his paper. What disloyalty etc ed

      1. Narrow Shoulders
        May 2, 2017

        Maybe in response to an editor he disagrees with having, the pro-EU Evening Standard commentator business Antony Hilton wrote a very upbeat on leaving the EU piece tonight. This made delightful reading.

  10. MikeP
    May 2, 2017

    If we’re to believe the rhetoric, the UK is in for some pretty protectionist punishment from the EU27 when we eventually leave. So it’s self-evidently the case that our farmers should be incentivised to produce more of what we need at home, indeed to even influence changes in our needs so we’re less reliant on EU imports. Frankly given the world’s problems I’d far rather we import our exotic fruits and such from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean than Spain and Portugal in any event. For the 5th or 6th largest world economy to have such a huge trade deficit is unforgivable.

    1. Roy Grainger
      May 2, 2017

      Yes, importing goods from poorer countries in Africa (for example) seems to me to be far more effective at improving and sustaining their economies than handing them cash handouts as foreign aid.

  11. Edward2
    May 2, 2017

    Farms by me have been paid generous sums to “set aside”
    In other words paid money not to grow things.
    Oil seed rape is everywhere due to big subsidies to grow it.
    They get paid to switch land to horse and pony owners looking for grazing and money to switch to storing caravans.
    They are getting payments to convert farm buildings into industrial units to create “jobs in the rural environment ”
    Hopefully farmers an get back to what they are best at and want to do, which is to grow crops, raise animals and provide us with food.
    Instead of importing such a lot of our food.

  12. Establishment
    May 2, 2017

    I know one instance where a farmer is getting money for NOT cultivating a stretch of their land as something akin to nature preservation. In point of fact, it can’t physically be cultivated anyway for reasons I cannot go into lest it and the farmer be identified.

    If only a worker in a factory or a proper business person could be paid by the EU or government for NOT doing something he was incapbale of doing anyway. But that’s politics I guess. We should all suck on a piece of straw and occasionally lean over a long wooden gate and repeat ….Ooh Arr …to get the govenment’s attention. It’s a lot easier than filling out a rent rebate form or a benefit form.

    We should try to wean farmers off dependency benefits. If not they can collect unemployment and retraining benefits which will work out cheaper.

  13. Richard1
    May 2, 2017

    We should go much more toward the Swiss system, using our expensive susbsidies to insist farmers take good care of the land. That means no overuse of pesticides that destroy wild flowers, not dumping waste and leaving old machinery lying around as an eyesore, dredging fields properly and keeping footpaths open and well marked, maintaining fences to keep animals properly enclosed etc. Payment of subsidy should not just be about acreage or volume of production but also needs to be contingent on good husbandry of the land in the interest of all those taxpayers who are subsidising it.

    1. Geoffrey Bennetts
      May 2, 2017

      And you probably vote for the Green Party………..!!

      1. Dennis Zoff
        May 2, 2017

        Why would Richard1’s comment be a Green Party issue?….it is simply common sense to reward for good management of resources that benefits all!

        There are much better “real” Green Party nonsense issues, to tackle!

        1. Jerry
          May 2, 2017

          @Dennis Zoff; There is good farm management and there is management by interference from “townies”.

          @Richard1 might not be a Green party member but he is as ignorant of real farming facts and figures as 99% of Green party members are – for example, no farmer will spray more pesticides than are needed because of the cost, nor will they -knowingly- use dangerous or damaging chemicals carelessly (if for no other reason than farmers do not want to be poisoned themselves). As for “old machinery’, who says it is scrap, or even old. Next someone will be complaining about the smell of bovine by-products…

          Far to many people see the countryside was some place to use those nice Green Wellington’s they bought from their trendy high street shoe shop, not a working industry that is putting their daily food on the table – if you want picture-book countryside go to an art gallery and look at a landscape painting by Turner or who ever, stop expecting farmers to run ‘twee’ tourist attractions!

        2. Richard1
          May 2, 2017

          thank you indeed I do not vote for the Green Party. The point I’m making is if we are going to subsidise farming then let’s at least ensure as much public benefit as possible

          1. Jerry
            May 3, 2017

            @Richartd1; The “as much public benefit as possible” is having plentiful, secure and affordable food on the table each and every day – ask anyone who grew up during WW2…

    2. rose
      May 2, 2017

      Very well put, Richard. And we should have food security very high on the list, as we should energy security and water security. All things dependent on not growing the population.

  14. agricola
    May 2, 2017

    Frankly todays submission is best answered by practicing farmers. Being a Roman one ,if only in name , I will make suggestions but realise that many may already be common practice in the modern farming world. Our farmers have never been slow at progressing technically.

    A combination of GPS and detailed crop analysis should indicate where greater or lesser crop fertilisation is required. Greater mechanisation in the market garden world to reduce the dependence on cheap labour. Moving expensive capital equipment around the country to maximise it’s use by varied growing seasons, particularly in the case of grain.

    To enhance profitability at the farm gate I would suggest greater product identity. Selling beef identified with the breed and the farm should be better than selling beef. I would not at present buy any meat at a UK supermarket because that is all it is, meat. Some supermarkets make a big deal about hanging their top end beef for twenty one days. All beef should be hung for this period as a minimum. It was before we got supermarkets, and probably still is if you go to a proper butchers. In my last UK town the best meat is bought from the butchery section of the food section of the local garden centre, and the parking is for free.

  15. Eh?
    May 2, 2017

    “Much of the EU system now is designed to reward environmental work, giving subsidy for keeping land fallow or for nurturing certain types of landscape or nature reserve on or near farmland. ”
    I disagree. I believe it is a cynical device to subsidise and paint it to the tax-payer as something else. It is dishonest. If the government told us that people were given welfare benefits to enable them to provide campsites, shooting ranges, and stop their automatic reaction of chopping down trees they cannot sell then we would smirk. We should give the farmers a smirk and stop giving them welfare benefits. If they are not satisfied with the wages they genuinely earn then they should get another job….like everyone else.

    1. Leslie Singleton
      May 2, 2017

      Dear Eh?–Except that that would add to our food imports, hardly a good idea right now

      1. Eh?
        May 2, 2017

        Dear Leslie Singleton. I think many of us would be surprised just how cheaply food, flowers and all things organic can be bought ferociously more cheaply outside Europe never mind the EU.
        With a contract to the UK, those prices would plummet as the producers geared up for us.

    2. Tom William
      May 2, 2017

      It is fairly obvious you do not live in the countryside. The system needs to be better run/controlled and Richard I makes a good point but SOME environmental work protects what is OUR countryside and stops SOME farmers from treating the countryside as just a profit/loss account.

  16. Bert Young
    May 2, 2017

    Support for Agriculture is important for all UK families . The countryside is there to roam in , the crops to fill our stomachs . Farms must continue to receive financial props in order to a) replace what they currently receive from the EU and b) to stimulate their efforts to do things in the most economical effective measures . Farms also insulate us from all sorts of food imbalances .

    As the most densely populated country in Europe we must not allow the countryside and agricultural land to be overtaken by building expansion ; Border controls must be rigid and undesirables exported . Perhaps the most important aspect of the Snap Election is population control – certainly it featured highest in my support vote for Brexit .

  17. A.Sedgwick
    May 2, 2017

    Of course we should produce more of our own food, we try to buy British as a routine, the quality tends to be better. Get rid of the green energy taxes and Climate Change Act, which will encourage investment.

    As to WW2 and after food shortages, I was born in the war and the only time I remember being really hungry was Sunday evenings when it was fried bread and dripping at best. When I see daily obese, very obese and grotesquely obese people I know which is the better option.

  18. Gilesette
    May 2, 2017

    The Tory Party could could ease its dependency on the “Countryside vote” by making sure other industries move into their constituencies.
    The Labour Party is all for a huge welfare state with dependent voters and the Tory Party is performing the same thing in the countryside humouring and rewarding poor work performance in the shape of grants and subsidies to farmers.
    We can invite French farming families to take over their farms. This has the added benefit that they will be able to speak much more easily with the workers employed there.

    1. rose
      May 2, 2017

      It was because of the French farmers that we had the CAP in the first place! They were inefficient compared to ours and they had to be stopped from going communist. That was what we were paying for all those years.

      1. Gilesette
        May 2, 2017

        It may comfort and flatter us to think our farmers are better, more effiicient than the French. How on earth the French managed…. without importing our agricultural produce since the dawn of time is a mystery. Why a couple of weeks of inclement weather in Spain triples the price of lettuce in our shops should be an eye-opener. Both nations are quite a match at football too. One feels they have the muscular and cranium strength from Napoleon and the Spanish settlement in South America to grow a cabbage or two as well as we. It is the French, incidentally and not the British whose gardens are world famous. Pretty stupid of the Brits too not to make a hybrid of the Elderberry which grows alike a weed here to out-wine the French. No, we must not underestimate our brethren in Europe. Just beat them! Well try!

        1. rose
          May 2, 2017

          I was talking about then, not now.

  19. APL
    May 2, 2017

    Matthew 7:5

    I suggest we take a long hard look at the public sector, in particular the Governmental arm. For example, do we really need 650 MPs all paid £74,000 excluding allowances which I think includes:

    £24,000 cost of staying away from main home.
    £105,000 staffing allowance.
    £10.400 Communications allowance.

    and the cherry on the top, if you lose your seat, £42,700 ‘winding up’ allowance. Pretty apt name if you happen to be footing the bill for someone who was taken on for a five year term with full knowledge of the nature of the position. If you can’t make reasonable provision ( from a 65,000 salary ) after five years, for finding yourself unemployed, one wonders if that person should have any say in any sort of finances.

    But since we’re talking about the cushy subsidies the Farmers get, maybe it’s appropriate to look elsewhere too.

    1. APL
      May 2, 2017

      “maybe it’s appropriate to look elsewhere too.”

      After all, it was the former leader of the Conservative party that famously said; “we’re all in this together!”

  20. margaret
    May 2, 2017

    I would be quite happy to see an upsurge in home produced agriculture. I agree with some who imply that some farming land is neglected and not respected .
    Pesticides should be used to the minimum or better still an organic approach to farming in general using the pest chain .
    I embrace the perception of rich loam and humus , tidy plots and productive farming which we can all learn from and live off.
    In the meantime we should all learn how to grow crops in our gardens and realise the complexity of feeding us humans is.

    1. Dennis
      May 2, 2017

      Much easier to feed the population with organic food if the population of the uK was say 10-15 million. Perhaps then if a percentage of crops was eaten by pests it wouldn’t matter as enough would be left. Of if not then a population of 5 million would do it. They do have farmers in Denmark don’t they? A population of 4 million.

      1. margaret
        May 3, 2017

        No what I mean is that certain pests eat other pests on particular crops and if introduced deliberately would allow the crops to grow and the pests would be satiated.

  21. Iain Moore
    May 2, 2017

    The issue is wider than you have outlined, it appears we are at the cusp of bring robotics into agriculture, which has the potential for removing the need for a lot of migrant labour. Just as the agricultural revolution was the catalyst for the industrial revolution, the development of robotics in agriculture could give us a niece manufacturing product, and lead to who knows what. At the beginning of the year I wrote to Jo Johnston , Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, making the argument for Government to act as the catalyst to get things moving on the issue here, but didn’t get very far , I post the letter I wrote to him……

    “A couple of months ago I heard the Prime Minister May was going to announce an investment into technology, It seems to me that it would be wise to use some of this investment into bringing more technology into agriculture, notably vegetable and fruit picking.

    It is nuts in the 21st century to bring in thousands of migrants to break their backs in the fields, to do jobs that may need to be done, but which will cost the Country and Tax payer , for it is unlikely they will ever contribute sufficiently to add to the tax base, rather than be net recipients of the public services the State has to lay on.

    If we can build a robot to trundle around Mars, 34 million miles away doing its thing, then surely it shouldn’t be beyond the whit of man to build some robots to pick vegetables.

    In fact it is not, several times I have seen and heard of ad hoc examples of farmers building robots to fulfill market gardening jobs. On Farming Today I heard one of our leading producers of strawberries , who apparently supplies Wimbledon, had in collaboration with others, made a prototype strawberry picking machine, a machine which can tell ripe fruit from the not ripe, and as robotics are now touch sensitive , able to pick the fruit without damaging it.

    If there is one thing a Government should and can do is to be the catalyst for bringing resources ( demand, intellect, finance, and production) together (like a Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation) to achieve an aim, for the impression I got was that these efforts to bring robotics into agriculture were very ad hoc. I hope I am wrong, but if not shouldn’t the Government be seeking to bring these efforts together to really crack any problems? “

  22. acorn
    May 2, 2017

    It is worth having a read of “Agriculture in the European Union and the Member States – Statistical fact sheet” Don’t put any money on a UK agricultural revolution, unless farms all get planning permission for growing bricks and mortar based crops.

    Likewise, there has been a lot of BS about getting back our fishing grounds for our poor neglected 12,000 fishermen. The UK has one of the most profitable fishing industries in the EU. The UK has the third biggest catch in the EU; is the largest producer by value of aquaculture products (mainly Salmon). The UK is the number one fish processor for the EU.

  23. Newmania
    May 2, 2017

    It will not look good if the rest of us are thrown to the wolves of global competition if we are also required to go on featherbedding a privileged class of legacy parasites whilst food prices go up.

    Why should they escape this nightmare at our expense ?

    1. Anonymous
      May 2, 2017

      And why should you escape the EU nightmare at the working class’s expense ?

      For them the cliff edge was jumped off in 1997.

      We’ve been suspended on a thread below the credit balloon ever since.

  24. jack Snell
    May 2, 2017

    Bring in laws akin to what was necessary in war time. Lay it out to the farmers exactly what they must grow and in what quantity. After all of the migrants have gone home then round up all the local layabouts on welfare and get them into the fields starting work at six o’clock on these fine summer mornings and tell them unless they work there will be no welfare. If farmers won’t comply then take the farms off of them and hand them over to local coops in the interest of national economic survival. There are too many green fields in this country- we need more tillage and we need to grow much more food for our own basic needs.

  25. fedupsoutherner
    May 2, 2017

    The vast majority of farmers where I live are not poor at all. In fact, compared to the rest of us they are very wealthy. They all drive Range Rovers and similar. The amount of rubbish and old farm equipment just dumped on fields and in woods is a disgrace. They don’t care if they spray when it is wet and the run off goes into local rivers. We saw an example of this first hand yesterday while walking along the shore in S Ayrshire. We used to think of farmers as custodians of the countryside but no more. It seems they only want to do anything which could benefit the countryside if they are paid handsomely to do so. Most farmers get offered subsidies amounting to thousands before they even get out of bed. What with wind turbines/farms, anaerobic digesters, solar panels, biomass fuel for boilers added to their earnings many of them now have wealth beyond their wildest dreams. All the time the amount of land available for food production is decreasing. In Scotland at the moment vast swathes of farmland is being used for renewable energy and woodland is being cut down at an alarming rate for biomass fuels. What used to be used for animal feeds in the winter is now being burnt in digesters so making this feed more expensive.

    The owners of the larger farms here are saying that they could manage without subsidies if they were allowed to get on with farming. It is the smaller farms or the hobby farmers that are a nuisance. (gives e.g. ed^)a ‘farmer’ who has (few ed)acres and only (a few sheep ed) Because they don’t earn much they claim tax credits when they pay no tax, and get subsidies which just about keep them afloat. He only works for a few hours a week on his farm. This is what should be stopped.

    New Zealand lamb is much cheaper, in fact it is half the price of Scottish lamb but prices in the UK are controlled by the slaughter houses and the auctioneers. In NZ they have a totally different approach to slaughter etc making the prices lower.

    I am sure many of us would like a subsidy for doing our job and perhaps I could claim one for planting a meadow in my garden???

  26. English Pensioner
    May 2, 2017

    I would argue that such changes should be happening in other areas. In the past, following the exit of people from the countryside to the towns to work in the new industries, there was a shortage of labour to work the land. This led to the development of farm machinery, starting with the steam plough leading in due course to what we have now. In the US, cotton picking machines and the huge combined harvesters were developed for similar reasons.
    This should be happening elsewhere, but there is not the impetus to do so whilst labour is available at at reasonable costs.
    Arguments that we must continue to have inward migration to provide such labour are in my view fallacious; without such labour, new machines would be developed. If the US could develop cotton picking machines, surely it should be within our ability to develop machines to gather other fruit and vegetable crops rather than rely on seasonal workers from abroad.
    The same applies to other manual tasks. There are lawn mowers which will mow lawns unattended as well as vacuum cleaners which will clean the floors by themselves. Why should not similar, but more sophisticated machines to clean floors in, say, hospitals be developed to cut back on the need for manual labour?
    At the moment there is little impetus do devise such machines due to labour being readily available in many areas for the minimum wage.

  27. Ian Wragg
    May 2, 2017

    The Co-op has just announced that they will sell only UK produced fresh meat. …………………
    Farmers should be producing food not cereals to make ethanol to add to fuel.
    Subsidies should only be given in extreme circumstances like Hill farmers.
    Whilst we keep subsidising their cheap labour they will never modernise.

  28. Ralph Hulbert
    May 2, 2017

    When I worked in farming during the sixties and early seventies, we had a support system which gave subsidies only if prices fell too far. This safe bottom line was cheaper for the taxpayer, and yet provided an assurance against absolute bankruptcy. The Milk Marketing Board (outlawed by EU) made sure milk prices could guarantee farmers a living. No milk could be dumped here just because France (say) had a glut. The EEC system led to butter mountains, milk lakes, and sunsequently, farmers paid to ‘set aside’, that is to be paid to grow nothing. For a country which cannot feed itself we must try to work out a system which encourages more food production.

  29. Qubus
    May 2, 2017

    Off-topic, but topical.
    Very disappointing news from the EU concerning their discussions over dinner at 10 Downing Street.

    I assume that Mr Juncker was sober.

  30. Jane Moorhouse
    May 2, 2017

    I’m amused at the comment ‘paying farmers to do nothing’ . Farming is a 7 day a week occupation. Out of the EU we can stop landowning people like Hestletine making millions for doing nothing. Smaller farmers have been struggling for years to compete because of the CAP. Loads of new opportunities for them to build a good sustainable food industry. What did Macron say. Sanctions will be put on countries for disobedience. What would happen if sanctions regarding food were put on us. We would starve because the EU have made sure that we need to import their stuff. Without food we starve. 1st priority of any government is to feed its citizens. The EU policy is to use food as a tool for compliance.

  31. Original Richard
    May 2, 2017

    Isn’t all “land management”, whether farming or “nurturing certain types of landscape” at odds with the natural environment ?

    Anyway, judging by the remarks emanating from Brussels/Berlin and our own Remainers, we’’ll soon be “digging for freedom”.

  32. Nig l
    May 2, 2017

    Politically cutting subsidy would be a nightmare for a Brexit regime so as we see with Overseas Aid where a finite amount has to be spent, it will be doled out, much of it inefficiently and once again my pocket as a taxpayer is being picked to subsidise others. However in the spirit of your question, with the advances in technology surely it should be possible to work out a break even point for Cereals, livestock etc with a margin factored in for a 21st century farm. In the short term if units cannot get to that break even, continue the subsidy however soft loans ( so recoverable Capex for the Treasury) should be made available to get the farms output up to break even plus so subsidies can be phased out say in five years. If they cannot get to profit plus after that period, let the market take its course. In terms of the environment, set aside etc, the average break even figure would be worked out on the ‘income generation’ land of the farm. If after all that, economies of scale, technology etc, a sector cannot get into profit against foreign (fair) competition, i.e. Not dumping, again let the market take its course.

  33. Anonymous
    May 2, 2017

    Farmers (farm owners, actually) have been getting subsidised in many ways – some of them hidden. The policy of mass immigration has been heavily subsidised, for instance – and not just financially.

    The Farmers will do just fine after Brexit – for both labour and for markets to sell their produce to.

  34. Rolf Spriggs
    May 2, 2017

    We should move very rapidly to the “New Zealand” model. Farmers are really only farming subsidies not crops nor animals, production moves to where the money is. Abolish subsidies and then the whole agricultural sector would be forced to live in the real world ( like the rest of us ) and produce what is actually needed. Farming is an industry, the countryside is a factory and crops and animals are the output of that industry. I appreciate that this is counter to many people’s viewpoint but it is not all fluffy bunnies and Countryfile!

  35. fedupsoutherner
    May 2, 2017

    Is it me or are the Conservatives unable to get their message across regarding Brexit? On the BBC this morning Nick Clegg was given over and above the necessary time to go on about how bad Brexit will be. I never seem to hear much said in public about how we are going to go forward with a positive result. Just neg, neg. Journalists are not asking the right questions of politicians. For example, they could have asked Nick Clegg just what is to be gained from paying into a club for a few chosen policies while not having any say in what is going on. Why don’t they question the fact that the EU is asking us to pay an extortionate amount to leave when we paid into and help set up the whole thing and they will be left with the spoils so why should we pay? Generally I feel the Conservatives are not being given a platform and are not taking advantage of telling us why the future is bright.

  36. Peter Wood
    May 2, 2017

    Subsidies – – There are too many subsidies! We should use the opportunity of leaving the corruption of the EU to completely overhaul our tax system to bring it up to date; a part of which should be to lower the overall tax take and remove subsidies. Our tax system should be the envy of Europe!

  37. Robin Wilcox
    May 2, 2017

    This is a no brainer. We should produce all we can in the UK. It will provide jobs, help our balance of trade and less food miles will be environmentally friendly and save on transport costs.

  38. Bryan Harris
    May 2, 2017

    Use any subsidies to make sure the farmers are paid adequately for their labours while producing the food we need most.

    Requiring farmers to creatively take care of the enviroment, which is not their job, should not be any part of a subsidy. However, guidelines need to be clearer on how to the land should be treated.

    By all means, make DEFRA responsible for the farming environment, but with a very light touch.

  39. JoolsB
    May 2, 2017

    Totally off topic John, but with respect, I have come to the conclusion that it is a total waste of time commenting on your website. Re. yesterday’s topic ‘May Day’, some 27 hours after submitting several comments, they are all still waiting for moderation. They were not rude or insulting but merely pointed out the anti-Englishness of your party, a party that would not exist without England’s support.

    As you purport to speak for England, why is criticism of this Conservative Government’s rotten treatment of England not allowed I wonder.

    1. Anonymous
      May 2, 2017

      The kind of service you require would need heavy subscription fees to pay staff.

      Otherwise you have to like it or lump it. Dr Redwood is entitled to time off.

  40. norman
    May 2, 2017

    I have to say, as one who has worked among farmers all my life, I’m gravely disappointed with this morning’s comments on this subject . Its quite apparent how ignorant people are of the difficulties and challenges of working the land, which is quite unlike any other business.
    Although a very varied bunch, farmers have to keep going when others would give up. Even when tragedy strikes, there are all the animals to feed. Their struggle for freedom on the land is also our struggle – we surely do not want too many large agribusinesses, nor soviet-style collectives, which failed abysmally!
    As a veterinarian, I’m well-placed to see what the application of overly progressive practices can do to animal and public health over the past 2 or 3 decades – its not all good, I can assure you! On the whole, Britain’s farmers are already highly efficient. The fact that they have the EU subsidy system to work within is not their fault, and in due time, I believe many would rather stand on their own feet. I’d also add that Britain’s larder during WWII, though somewhat lean, was probably the healthiest before or since! I too, was there – we even grew potatoes in the front garden!

  41. forthurst
    May 2, 2017

    “Do we think current EU policy is well judged?”

    A rhetorical question, indeed. The economic policy of the EU was founded on the principle that it would be good for German industry and French farmers, for which latter purpose the CAP was devised. Needless to say, those same policies have worked to the detriment of our own manufacturers who have largely become extinct and of our farmers who spend more time filling in forms to claim grants from the CAP and providing returns to the government than in actual agricultural production; this is because the EU does not want our farmers to grow food in competition with the less efficient French but to receive payments for not producing food, sufficiently to prevent most from going bankrupt in any one year.

    Our fields our now filled with wild flowers, rape, windmills and photovoltaic arrays, none of which is growing the food we need. After leaving the EU, farmers will need grants to clear impediments to agriculture from prime productive land and financial encouragement to grow the food we need. Farming has changed our landscape from neolithic times and there is no danger that afforestation would return without ‘landscaping’ grants as it might in Switzerland without large subsidies for their dairy industry, and the hedges and ditches serve a purpose which farmers understand even if townies don’t.

  42. fedupsoutherner
    May 2, 2017

    Perhaps farmers should go and see how they managed in NZ when subsidies were stopped. It sorted out the small holders from the real farmers.

  43. Richard Butler
    May 2, 2017

    Just want to mention that Remainers are constantly re-running the referendum whereas Leave political big hitters are largely silent. This is having the effect of making Leave voters doubt their choice – I hear this more and more on radio discussions now.

    A prime example this morning – Remainers keep driving home the inflation message without any counter argument on the huge J-Curve benefits bought about thanks to Sterling at fair value level.

  44. Denis Cooper
    May 2, 2017

    Off-topic, I saw Nick Clegg on Sky News this morning and at one point in his litany of lies, half-lies and hyperbole he specifically named you and prayed you in aid, JR, to support his idea that we should have a second referendum on EU membership.

    Of course what he didn’t say was that as it was proposed back in November 2012:

    the first of your two referendums would have been just a “mandate referendum” for the government to establish whether or not the voters wanted it to attempt a renegotiation of our terms of membership of the EU, the question on the ballot paper being:

    “Do you want the UK government to negotiate a new relationship with the EU based on trade and political co-operation?”

    while the second referendum would have been whether to accept or reject whatever new deal might have been extracted through any renegotiation:

    “Do you want to accept the new negotiated relationship with the EU or not? Voting No means withdrawing from the EU.”

    For once the Sky presenter asked Clegg a sensible question, wanting to know what would be on the ballot paper for his proposed second referendum, and he answered:

    “Very simple. Do you accept this deal, or do you want to stay in the European Union?”.

    Well, in fact it wouldn’t be that simple, because the UK government and Parliament could unilaterally implement the result of your second referendum whichever way the vote went – it would be entirely our decision whether to stay or leave – but if we voted not to accept the new deal under his second referendum it would then be up to the other EU member states to decide whether we could stay in the EU and if so on what basis.

    Indeed once the formal Article 50 notice has been sent in – as it now has been – arguably it would not be legal under the EU treaties to allow it to be revoked even on conditions such as “You can stay in but you must join the euro within three years”.

    I’m strongly in favour of good democratic control of how our government proceeds with the Article 50 negotiations, within the necessary bounds of secrecy, but I don’t see how that all can be left to the end when the government says “Here’s the deal we’ve agreed, vote for it”, which of course is what has happened in the past with all the EU treaties.

    1. A.Sedgwick
      May 3, 2017

      A50 – biggest Brussels blunder?

      1. hefner
        May 5, 2017

        Why always Brussels’? Art.50 was introduced in the Lisbon treaty in 2009 to deal with a “possible secession of a Member State”. This had been introduced by the “federalists” in a democratic spirit to allow a Member not willing to go the federalist way to get out, this without creating insuperable obstacles to those members willing to go that way.
        My reading is that there is a process pretty well defined (and of which the UK governmentS should be well aware) that the EU (the whole set of institutions) is going to follow.

  45. ChrisS
    May 2, 2017

    Farming should be about food production as this will reduce our balance of payments deficit and guarantee supply.

    Yes, we want the environment looked after, but food production has to come first. The Government should therefore redirect the subsidies currently being paid to benefit the UK taxpayers who fund them and not those of France and other EU countries.

  46. Bobby-a-Job
    May 2, 2017

    To be perfectly clear:

    The Labour Party will employ one million extra policemen ( and women ) at a cost of £6.45p per week, paid monthly, on the 15th the month or it could be on the 25th of the month or the 35th of the month. It will gert the money by taxing people much more who earn more than £6.44p per week.

  47. Mark
    May 2, 2017

    We should stop subsidising the production of rape and maize as feedstocks for biofuels. It isn’t energy efficient or green anyway. The land could be better used growing food.

    1. Iain Moore
      May 2, 2017

      Worse the land that is being given over to acres and acres of photo-voltaic panels.

    2. fedupsoutherner
      May 2, 2017

      totally agree Mark.

  48. Denis Cooper
    May 2, 2017

    Also off-topic:

    “Revealed: How EU has been secretly plotting to block Theresa May over EU migrants for weeks”

    Whether this is completely accurate and they really are that callous and hypocritical, or it is just more unreliable “Brussels gossip”, there is the plain fact that it is now over ten months since the referendum.

    Which should have been plenty of time to knock together a broad general agreement so that these 4 million plus blameless people could plan and get on with their lives without nagging worries about their future legal position.

    Even with some detailed arrangements still to be filled in over a more extended period, and with a provision that migrants should be treated sympathetically and for the time being should always be given the benefit of any doubt which may arise.

    If there is evidence to support this allegation I hope it will be brought to the attention of EU migrants in this country so that they know who to blame.

    1. A.Sedgwick
      May 3, 2017

      Any EU immigrant gainfully employed on 23/06/16 should have been given residency on UK laws. It would be sensible to do this belatedly, UK citizens abroad will be sorted one way or another. Set piece negotiation is futile, ultimately reality and piecemeal solutions will evolve. WW2 never happened!

      1. Denis Cooper
        May 3, 2017

        It is far too late for unilateral action by our government, it would just be taken as a sign of weakness.

  49. norman
    May 2, 2017

    It is evident that many are unaware of the difficulties and challenges of working the land, which is quite unlike any other business.
    Although a very varied bunch, farmers have to keep going when others would give up. Even when tragedy strikes, there are all the animals to feed. Their struggle for freedom on the land is also our struggle (we surely do not want too many large agribusinesses, nor soviet-style collectives, which failed abysmally!) Without our farmer’ noble efforts , we would soon starve, and the countryside would become a depressing wasteland.
    As a veterinarian, I’m well-placed to see what the application of overly progressive practices can do to animal and public health over the past 2 or 3 decades – its not all good, I can assure you! On the whole, Britain’s farmers are already highly efficient. The fact that they have the EU subsidy system to work within isn’t their fault, and in due time, I believe many would rather stand on their own feet.
    I’d also add that Britain’s larder during WWII, though somewhat lean, was probably the healthiest before or since! I too, was there – we even grew potatoes in the front garden!

    1. rose
      May 2, 2017

      They are that callous. Look at the way they refused to discuss it before. Look at their imposition of the euro and its cruel effects. Look at their no borders extremism which results in Lithuania losing her population and our becoming horribly overcrowded.

  50. RupertP
    May 2, 2017

    My family has a arable farm of around 2,000 acres of which about 1,700 acres (approx 700 hectares) are used to grow arable crops, the rest being permanent pasture or woodland.

    I think it is hard for non farmers to appreciate how incredibly difficult it is for farmers in the UK. There are two main issues: 1) The UK weather, which can be too wet in some years, causing a poor / spoiled / non-existent or massively reduced yield crop as a result of too little sunshine, too many slugs and/or bugs, too many weeds (e.g. black grass) and too much crop disease and 2) Low and very variable world prices for agricultural commodities.

    As a result of these factors, UK farming produces very variable income for the farmer – Our average gross margin per hectare across our farm over the last 5 years has varied between £350 and £700 per hectare. Our fixed costs (wages, machinery, fuel, property costs, admin etc) generally run between £650 and £750 per hectare, so the EU subsidy of approx £200 per hectare either covers a farming loss in bad years or provides a modest profit in good years, which we invariably re-invest into the farm to improve efficiency further.

    As farmers, we would much rather not be reliant on subsidy, but at low world market prices, it is a necessity to survive. You might argue that low market prices for agricultural commodities are the natural consequence of too much farming subsidy all round the world, but until and unless the rest of the world stops subsidising its farmers, the UK would destroy its farming industry if subsidised crop was permitted to be imported from abroad (e.g. the EU) without either significant tariffs being applied to imports or UK farmers continuing to be subsidised.

    Our family farm is already efficient and is producing very high yields in good weather years, with only 2 people doing all the farm work on a relatively large farming area. Achieving this result requires a lot of very hard work and very good agricultural machinery, which is very expensive. More high tech investment (drones, selective spraying) might provide a very small improvement to farm efficiency, but it isn’t right to say that this could amount to an “agrarian revolution”. No amount of high tech can make up for the fact that the UK has a tricky climate for farming and high environmental standards that mean farming is more marginal in the UK than it is in many other places around the world.

    The plus side for UK consumers of low agricultural commodity prices is the very low cost of food. At a wheat price of £140 per tonne, the farmer is currently being paid 14 pence per kilo of wheat. A typical loaf of bread needs maybe 0.5 kg of flour, so you can see that the cost of the main ingredient in a loaf of bread is incredibly low. If there was no subsidy at all, the price of wheat would need to increase by about £25 per tonne to leave farmers income the same.

    If the UK government wishes to see its farmers thrive, they could perhaps consider some sort of income insurance scheme for farmers, so that when prices / yields are low, farmers incomes could be topped up. The potential downside of this is that you could end up with over production, as used to happen in the EU before the current basic payment / single payment scheme was introduced. The EU used to use a quota system to guard against this, so maybe the government income insurance scheme would have to be for only a certain level of production. An alternative would be for the government to tweak its intervention price from year to year so that if there is too much production, it would offer a lower income guarantee to discourage production and when there is too little it would offer a higher income guarantee to encourage more production.

  51. Richard Butler
    May 2, 2017

    I predict the following results for the English local elections;

    Con +428
    Lab -312
    LD -29

    Reply On what basis?

    1. hefner
      May 5, 2017

      Pretty good, Friday at 19:21
      Con +542
      Lab -318
      LD -32


  52. Jon Davies
    May 2, 2017

    A new policy needs to encourage truly efficient farmers. It also needs to encourage responsible stewardship of our countryside by better managing rather than over-exploiting natural capital, such as water and animal & insect species.

    Some specific policies:
    a) Encourage tree planting in upland farms to slow rainwater runoff which will reduce the risk of flooding in lowland residential areas (and reduce the need to spend as much money on improving flood defences).
    b) No payments to farmers who allow the runoff of fertilisers and farm effluent into streams and rivers.
    c) Encourage biodiversity by significantly reducing the use of insecticides which harm pollinators such as bees.
    d) Support greater use of hydroponic growing of vegetables which requires far less water, particularly in the south east where water shortages are more common.
    e) Encourage development of robot harvesting systems for vegetables (cereal crops can be pretty much automated already).

  53. The PrangWizard
    May 2, 2017

    We should aim to grow more at home. Land should not be left to go to waste in any circumstance and I would claim that so called benefits of ‘set aside’ or whatever it is called now are questionable. The idea that we should keep our land ‘pretty’ is self indulgent.

    If we wish to save our wildlife we should leave it in peace and stop encouraging people to wander far and wide at all times of the year. Birds are easily disturbed especially in the nesting season. Stay away more. We had the BBC this morning with another example of encouraging self indulgence where a reporter and a group of people – singers of some sort – went into a wood to listen to the nightingales, and even to sing. They made a lot of noise otherwise and carried bright lights – did they think they would not be noticed?

    And by all means mechanise, and stop importing cheap labour. And let us do this by encouraging manufacturers at home to make the machines. Do we make the drones?

    What we need to do is market our produce better though, it will help home and export sales, and for every home sale extra there will be one less import. This is of national importance. It is all very well to talk about buying locally but this should not lead to us thinking small.

    The bizarre belief that things foreign are better needs countering, most of it is just better marketing. Take as a small example, prosciutto, a nice exotic foreign name. It is thin sliced cured ham. It is perceived as something special – it is widely available in supermarkets. Lets take the Italians head on with an English equivalent, give it an ‘exotic’ and high sounding English name and market it accordingly – thin sliced cured ham doesn’t cut the mustard ( if I may ). We could do this with many other products we grow, make or process, as they are just as good if not if not better. Where is an upmarket name for our English equivalent of champagne?

    We must think bigger and long-term.

    Reply We are doing well with some UK brands from the farms – we now have numerous well thought of English cheeses and white wines.

  54. anon
    May 2, 2017

    I would prefer to spend more on our navy, particularly th0se craft (built in the UK) needed to support our new independent fishing policy.

    Subsidies for farmers should be intelligently applied to support them in distress type situations,to support the right thing e.g in disease,food safety, a minimum desired UK production etc but generally not otherwise.

Comments are closed.