I very rarely listen to Radio2 – I am so firmly a Radio4 stick-in-the-mud – so I am grateful to a reader of this blog for pointing me in the direction of the Jeremy Vine show this lunch time (although I feel rather bad about temporarily deserting Martha Kearney) where there was what passes for a discussion about farm subsidies on that channel (click here 35 mins into programme) .
It was very short, it was rather shallow, but it was very welcome although it should ring loud warning bells in the ears of the NFU.
George Monbiot was very accomplished and pointed out grouse moors receiving agricultural subsidies as a glaring fault of the current system. George was, as almost always, excellent.
Minette Batters, the NFU Deputy President, was pretty good too. She was reasonable and calm and did a good job but the NFU should be worried about what their strategy should be. Batters was put in the position of having to choose whether or not to defend massive payments to massively rich landowners and ended up almost defending them. That’s not going to work. If every time the NFU talks about subsidies it argues for the status quo, or merely defends it, then it will not only look like the dinosaur that many of us think that it is, but also like a foolish dinosaur.
It is not the job of the NFU to defend the unfairness of the current system – instead they should be proposing a better one. But that better one will have to be better for the consumer and taxpayer and environment, as well as a fair one for farmers. NFU members, real farmers, are not going to do well out of a new English agricultural policy unless their union chooses to join forces with the public and the environment rather than the richest landowners and the slipper farmers of the upland grouse moors.
Everyone expects money to be tight after 2020 and farmers have no entitlement to public subsidy after that date unless they can justify it. Their allies should be the environmental NGOs who can do some of their PR for them with the general public rather than the likes of the Conservative MPs who spoke up for grouse shooting. `
There are several ways of cutting the money going into agriculture (and that should be an aim in the age of austerity) and they include across-the-board cuts (which would hurt NFU members more than CLA members to be blunt), capping of subsidy levels for individual farms (a good idea in my opinion but not the whole solution – and unlikely to be promoted by large NGOs who also benefit from those payments) and restricting access to the money to ‘real farmers’ and cutting out many other current recipients.
The more often that these issues are aired, the more difficult it will be for the agricultural industry to maintain a unified front in the hope that reform will go away. It most certainly won’t go away and the NFU need something good to put on the table. They also need to look around the table and see where their real friends are sitting.
- Posted in: Farming