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Far-reaching plan to transform the way British farmers operate 29/1/02
To discuss this now we're joined
by Sir Donald Curry, who wrote
the report, Sean Rickard, an
agricultural economist, Patricia
Stanley joins us from Nottingham,
she is a farmer, and Ian Gardiner,
the Deputy Director-General of
the NFU. Patricia Stanley, you are
not really being asked to give up
subsidies, you are being asked
essentially to spend some of the
money differently. What's your
My reaction is that farming is
on its knees at the moment. We
are not making any money. I
don't think there are hardly any
farmers in this country making any
money. To cap direct payments
in this way, to modulate 10%,
which is what it will be, from our
direct payment, to go into
environmental things, that's a very
laudable thing to do. I applaud it.
We all want to see more and more
money going into the environment.
But I'm afraid we need an
agriculture that is buoyant and is
sustaining itself. To take money
away from it now, when it's in
the situation it is, is total suicide.
On your story, are you struggling
on your own farm now?
We are indeed.
Sir Donald Curry, how will you
help with that?
SIR DON CURRY:
(Policy Commission on
Farming and Food)
I think the message is the one
that we've found everywhere.
Farmers, wherever we met them,
through our consultation process,
all said they weren't making any
money. The truth is, the current
system of support, and the way
agriculture is structured at the
moment, is not delivering returns.
No-one is making an adequate
return or profit to reinvest in their
business and sustain that business.
The immediate thought is
become more efficient and
productive. But you say, in a
sense, don't think about quantity,
think about quality.
SIR DON CURRY:
I'm very interested that's the take
out, because nowhere in that report
do we suggest that food production
should fall. We suggest that
farmers need to be focused on the
market, they need to produce for
the market. They need to have all
the tools available to help them
do that as efficiently as possible,
to drive out costs, and secure a
reasonable return from their efforts
in doing so. That is the main
driver through this report. Yes,
we're saying that we should
modulate, we believe that's appropriate
to free up resources, to be matched
fund by the Treasury. This is not
just, as Ben Gill was saying, creaming
money off, it is securing the same
amount of money from the Treasury
to support that, to bring in additional
funds which the industry needs to
reposition itself, and be better
equipped for the challenges ahead.
Sean Rickard, There seems to be
a mismatch between what Sir Don
is saying and what Patricia is hearing?
(Cranfield School of Management)
They are only half right, both of
them. What Don's report didn't say,
and should have said, because
generally it was a good report, is
that we will never provide reasonable
incomes in farming until we face
up to one basic truth. There are too
many farmers producing too much
food. If you want to raise incomes
in farming, we must remove
significantly a number of farmers
from the industry. Don's report hints
at that, but we have to spell it out to
farmers, and tell them the truth. This
tinkering with funding will not help,
as Don has said. Subsidies have not
helped the industry, in fact they've
pushed it into bigger problems. He
advocates increasing subsidies, but
the truth is, a lot of them have to be
told, that in the long term, they don't
have a future.
Congratulations for not using the
word "modulate" in your answer,
which has come up from both the
first interviewees. So, fewer farmers,
(Deputy Director, NFU)
That's the thing that we desperately
want to avoid. We want a prosperous
agriculture, and that's where we can
first recommend the report, which
puts profit at the front of a sustainable
agriculture. The NFU is not against
examining the support system, moving
support into environmental schemes.
As Pat Stanley has said, there is a real
presentational problem to British
farmers. They face a Government that
has presided over falls and further
falls in their fortunes. They are not
certain that the extra matching funds
will come from the Treasury. The
Food and Farming Commission has
not spelled out in detail how the
report would operate. It's only some
farmers which would have the income
deduction, it's serial beef and sheep
farmers who would have the income
deduction. How do you deal with
the problem that the environmental
schemes rightly would deal with the
whole surface of Britain, whoever
is farming it? There is a whole raft
I'd say this is missing the point.
The whole thing about this report
is that farmers have to get in touch
with the market. This concentration
on the environment is a red herring,
frankly. What the report does not
demonstrate is if we went down
the route of reducing subsidies
completely, I suspect we would
deliver a great deal of the better
countryside. Why? Because 20%
of our farmers produce 80% of
our food. Those 20% of farmers
farm two-thirds of the land area.
They are the people who manage
the farm. It is arrogance and rudeness
to tell these farmers they don't look
after the countryside. They do, they
produce good quality food, they
could do it cheaply. We will waste
millions of pounds trying to prop
up inefficient farmers in environmental
schemes. It has to be halted.
Do you think, Patricia Stanley, that
thousands of pounds, at least, are
being wasted on you?
No, we are one of the most efficient
farmers in the country, and this
particular year, we have lost tens of
thousands of pounds. I think that
would run across the board of most
farmers in this country.
And that is with your subsidies?
How do you see your role as a
farm developing, because at the
heart of the report is the idea that
farmers shouldn't be thinking solely
of the market, but of their role as
custodians of the countryside.
We have always been custodians
of the countryside. I get very
annoyed when people tell me that
I should start thinking about being
a custodian of the countryside. We've
always been doing this for many,
many years. Our particular farm has
been farmed by the family for 70
years. My father-in-law, who lived
through the great depression, said
this is the first year that the farm has
ever lost money, which goes to show
what sort of a situation we're in.
Basically, what we are looking for,
when Mr Rickard says that we should
stop having subsidies. What about
the rest of the world? I can tell you
that most of the rest of agriculture,
in some form or another, is subsidised
around the world.
The point about this plan today is
that it will re-route money that you
would otherwise be getting for the
main part of your farming activities
towards any kind of environmental
activity. So wouldn't that encourage
you to do more for the environment?
How can we possibly do that, when
what we are doing at the moment is
unsustainable? How can we possibly
afford to be doing these environmental
things, when what we are doing at
the moment really doesn't make sense.
That is the problem, Sir Don, isn't it?
SIR DON CURRY:
I understand the challenge, but it is
important to recognise that in the
report we see the delivery of
environmental goods as a commercial
activity, which farmers get paid for.
The re-routing of these subsidies
through environmental schemes is
an opportunity for farmers to
participate in that, and to see that
as part of their business.
But surely, if Patricia could find
a better way of making money out
of her farm, particularly a more
environmental way, she would have
found it by now.
SIR DON CURRY:
Sorry, but I'm not hearing solutions.
We're presenting a solution to this.
No-one else is presenting one. The
current situation is not sustainable.
But if we have profitable farming,
you will find that the environmental
issues follow on behind them.
That is what we have done over
SIR DON CURRY:
Can I remind everyone, the main
thrust of this report is to deliver
profitable farming, and gaining
profit for farmers out of the activities
they are involved in. Producing food
more efficiently, using benchmarks,
using support through collaboration,
the best knowledge from RND.
All of those tools are the keys to
success in delivering profitable
Do you believe your report will
make Patricia's farm profitable, or
are there some that can't be saved,
and will always make a loss?
SIR DON CURRY:
If her farm is as good as she says
it is, and I have no reason to doubt
that, there is no reason why, looking
forward, adopting the recommendations
in this report, her farm should not
So this is a turning point, Sean Rickard?
No, unfortunately. It's another
drip-feed. Another £100 million, £200
million, and we'll move on. We've
got to start telling farmers the truth.
Until they change, and adopt the
sort of business practises which
requires them getting in touch with
the market, they are turning to
Government. Help us, Government.
SIR DON CURRY:
It says that, Sean.
Yes, but you muddle your message
by then saying, "But give us a little
more money first".
SIR DON CURRY:
Because now, we believe, is not
the time to remove support. Right
across the board, we wanted to re-route
it for other purposes which the taxpayers,
we believe, would be willing to support.
Do you not believe, Sean, the logic
of your report is fewer farmers?
SIR DON CURRY:
It may well result. The trend is
downward now. I'm not suggesting
it will change.
Patricia, do you think that you
are moving towards a situation where
you will only be viable if other farms
around you close?
I think what is happening is the
Government are exporting our industry
abroad. Unless we have a sustainable
industry, the way we used to have,
indeed when our farm was viable, we
could re-route money into doing things
like buying rare breed cattle, which we
have done, and we're very, very proud
of. We felt that we were putting
something back into our industry. We
now have a wonderful herd of Longhorn
cattle, which we wouldn't have been
able to do, unless the rest of our
business had been profitable. That is
what paid for these animals. We helped
to save this particular breed. These
sort of things aren't going to be able
to happen unless we have a viable
industry. All that is happening is our
industry is being exported abroad to
places that don't have the same
standards that we have to adhere to
here. Things are grown in areas where
it is unsustainable. They are using
cheap labour and land, and it is being
grown not to the standards that we
have to adhere to rigorously here.
Ian Gardiner, just a point that was
raised with Margaret Beckett, to do
with supermarkets, and the pressure
that could be placed on them to
give farmers a less rough ride. Do
you think this food chain forum
will have any bite?
Yes, I do. We are already working
solidly with the food chain. Many
of the proposals in this report are
already being operated on by the
industry as a whole. Farmers will
have to fight for their own futures.
The harder they fight, the more
successful they are in that fight, the
more of them will be there to
preserve Britain, to provide the
nation with the its food, and to look
after the countryside.
Do you buy the report?
It's a hell of a target which is set
in front of us. I buy most of the
report. Our serious reservation is
at this low ebb of the fortune of
British farming, to ask our farmers
to buy such a major shift in their
support without proper understanding
of it, is a step too far. But, there is a
lot more in this report we've got to
get on with now, with the Government
and the Secretary of State, now.
Thank you all very much.