Guy Smith, vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union, said last week that farmers were at risk of being treated as “park keepers”, with Britain forced to increase its reliance on imported food. ‘If the only support mechanism that we get is for environmental delivery, we then become state paid park keepers,” he said. “My concern is where does that leave food?‘.
I quite often hear the ‘park-keeper’ phrase from farmers but it’s entirely inappropriate for the following reasons:
- if British farmers were park keepers they’d be sacked – the State of Nature report showed that ‘the index of change in the abundance and occupancy of farmland species has fallen by 0.56% per year; a statistically significant drop of 20% in total, over the long term. Over our short-term period, the index declined by 0.69% per year; a statistically significant fall of 8% in total.’
- farmers are supposed to get their income from selling stuff we want – not from the state – but if we decide post-Brexit to continue with income support for land owners then those payments should be for public goods, like carbon storage, flood alleviation, unpolluted water and wildlife rather than for being farmers.
- if we want farmers to be park keepers (and this isn’t something that anyone other than farmers ever says) then the farming industry should be asking us for the details of what we want for our money and working out how to deliver it. What other industry tells its customers what they are allowed to have and then demands it is paid for doing what it wants to do?
Let’s hope that Guy and his fellow dinosaurs find it difficult to pick up a pen or tap on a keyboard with those claws at the end of their short arms, otherwise we might their words embedded in the long-awaited Defra Farming Strategy.
The post-Brexit future of farming will be a big test of TM the PM, Andrea Leadsom and Defra. Hands up who is feeling confident that they will come up with the goods! What – no-one?