Any subsidy should favour the smaller farmer

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James RB Odgers, from Bridgwater, Somerset, writes in response to an FT editorial “Britain’s farmers will need help after Brexit”. He came into farming 15 years ago after a broad experience on the boards, public and private, of many companies across the UK and Europe:

Our model avoids as many subsidies as possible, to see if farming can be profitable without them. The model provides opportunities for families to run their own small-scale, traditional farming businesses on our land (below) using share farming agreements and selling through a common brand. Read more here.

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Coming into farming as an outsider, some issues appear obvious. 

First, any discussion about subsidies needs to address the oppressive role played by supermarkets

Their power should long since have been curtailed under antitrust or oligopoly legislation had any government had the guts to take them on. These leviathans dictate pricing and have a distressingly accurate reputation for driving profit out of the farming sector — whatever their massive public relations departments may claim otherwise.

Farms have had to increase in scale if they are to survive such an onslaught 

This has led also to increasingly precarious methodologies that rely on unsustainable inputs that are also under the control of giant and unaccountable corporations. Four years is quite enough time to address this — and there would be the added advantage of removing much of the waste that the system engenders: up to a third of all food purchased currently being thrown away.

Second, the allocation of many subsidies is not, as you write, based on food production but on land ownership

It cannot be justifiable that the more land I own, the more money I receive from the public purse. A graduated subsidy is what is needed (if any), tilted towards the smaller farmer, with an environmental bent and incentives to employ more people. The current trend is towards fewer people working in any capacity on farms and this has led to a relentless degradation of rural communities.

Third, much is made of our so-called moral responsibility for ever-greater yields to provide ever more food for a growing global population

Such an argument is often heard when new technologies are being proposed — usually with more profit as a primary motive.

It is for us to feed our own, first and foremost; we import 40% of our food at present . . .

There is quite enough land on this planet to feed a population far greater than today’s: the answer lies in education and distribution.

 

 

 

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