When will British farmers appear on the ‘economic radar screen’ of their country?

Devinder Sharma notes that in India, the only time farmers appear on the economic radar screen of the country is when elections are around the corner (Ground Reality).

Not so in UK. Whereas 43% are employed in Indian agriculture, British farmers and employees registered to vote are only 1% of the country’s population according to the World Bank’s interesting list and so are not regarded as a ‘vote bank’, despite their vital role.

The Government of India is honouring their commitment keeping minimum support prices at one and a half times the cost of production for 13 food crops and cotton (listed here). As this excludes fruit, many vegetables and dairy produce, Sharma notes that only 6% farmers get the benefit of these procurement prices.

The only parallel price policy in UK is operated by most large supermarkets, which have a system of aligned contracts ensuring price stability, but only for a minority of milk producers.

The Grocer states that just 30% of milk is produced by farmers on supermarket aligned liquid milk contracts and the IPA newsletter describes the current differential in price as ‘staggering’: “For example, the November AMPE (Actual Milk Price Equivalent) was 31.5ppl and the November Muller non-aligned standard liquid litre price was 20.94ppl (plus 2.623ppl retail supplement) making 23.56p”. 

Sharma’s vital but rhetorical question is: “Who will bear the loss a farmer incurs in selling his produce at a lower price in the market?”

 If selling food at below cost of production plus continues, this banner’s legend will be fulfilled.

In both countries, as he says, “Little effort has been made to understand the economic design that hardly leaves any policy space for farmers”. An honourable exception in Northern Ireland is the ongoing campaign by Farmers for Action, outlined here in 2016. Sharma continues:

“Farmers need to seek details from political party leaders on how their party, if elected, will be able to find adequate resources for what they promise for agriculture”.

No promises to British farmers ever hit the UK headlines before elections; they have been disregarded to date – though there are signs that post Brexit apprehensions are causing some re-evaluation.

Ed: the international prices quoted in commodity markets should be irrelevant to food grown in this country and bought by British residents; a farmer should never be forced to sell food – which is all-important – below cost of production plus.

 

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