Monbiot, Batters on the Vine

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.


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4 Replies to “Monbiot, Batters on the Vine”

  1. It is a shame that Jeremy’s debate points are getting shorter. I actually found the often bizarre comments afterwards from listeners interesting. I think the nfu if they listened will take it that a lot of people with little or no interest in wildlife aren’t happy at subsidises to farmers

  2. Boy doesn’t Batter witter? I watched the panel discussion on CAP

    Whereas Monbiot offered passion and a vision she offered Whitehall weasel words, sort of lets put the great back in Great Britain.Interesting that Helen Ghosh had several snide swipes at George. NT feeling threatened by CAP reform maybe?

  3. A very good article by George Monbiot in today’s Guardian (Wedns). He is spot on on a range of points: the huge risks of a New Zealand style ‘freefall’ removal of subsidies, that farmers don’t have to suffer as part of a new approach – he makes the hugely important point that farmers get just 9% of supermarket turnover – and the tiny contribution upland sheep farming makes to food production (1.5%) – especially in proportion to its devastating environmental impacts. He also makes the crucial point that CAP forces farmers into production – with ‘good agricultural condition’ rules extending to even small encroachment from boundary features like hedges.

    One criticism only – and this is a general one, not of George’s view specifically – whilst the cap on payments makes sense, the reaction would be to split up ownership of large units, leaving only institutional farmers (RSPB, NT) to suffer.

    And one addition: the potential economic benefits of the sort of world George looks forward to: rather than cutting money to the countryside, the failed austerity approach, what we need is efficiency and productivity – making the money work, reducing rather than causing costs by reversing the damaging impacts of production-only subsidy.

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