I see farmers who struggle to keep going and just to pass on the farm to their children. It really is high time we give farmers a fair deal. I am doing all I can to make sure that their concerns are heard. We need a strong supermarket regulator as soon as possible and we need to provide fair trade for British farmers.
Let's be clear, Mr Farron is right when he says farmers struggle, work daft hours in all weathers and are often living below the poverty line. And that often the price they get for their produce barely represents the cost of production. But his solution - regulating prices - is wrong.
Let's begin with subsidy. The Common Agricultural Policy dishes out 55 billion Euros in farm subsidy. So why then Tim are your upland farmers below the poverty line?
Each year we’re seeing a further concentration of benefits in the hands of fewer,
larger landowners, who seem to use their subsidy cheques to buy up more land and more subsidy entitlements,” Jack Thurston, the co-founder of farmsubsidy.org, told the Scotsman. “Most people think farm subsidies are there to help the small guy but we’re seeing it’s quite the reverse. The bigger you are, the better your land, the more public aid you get,” he said.
So there you have it, Tim. Billions in subsidy to farmers is being scooped up by landowners leaving tenant farmers and upland farmers with less income. And you want to blame supermarkets? Are you so in love with the EU that you can’t see how its corrupt subsidy system is the problem and that more regulation, more price controls will serve only to distort the system even further?
Let’s look at what happened in New Zealand where there was a similar situation with plenty of upland sheep and cattle farmers a long way from the market. And there was a distorting subsidy system. In the 1980s the Government scrapped the subsidy. And all the farms closed? No.
New Zealand agriculture is profitable without subsidies, and that means more people staying in the business. Alone among developed countries of the world, New Zealand has virtually the same percentage of its population employed in agriculture today as it did 30 years ago, and the same number of people living in rural areas as it did in 1920.
Indeed if you read on Tim, you’ll find that sheep farmers – you know the chaps who come to your surgeries – were hardly affected at all by the changes:
Sheep farmers, who as a group were the most heavily subsidized, were (not surprisingly) hardest hit by the elimination of subsidies. Those farmers who were heavily in debt at the start of the reform period were hit hard by rising interest rates, and a transition program was negotiated to ease their situation. Farm-related sectors like packing and processing, equipment and chemical supply, and off-farm transport also suffered, but this was regarded as evidence of their previous inefficiency. Overall the ‘transition period’ lasted about six years, with land values, commodity prices, and farm profitability indices stabilizing or rising steadily by 1990.
If you were a real liberal, Tim – one who believed in free markets allowed to operate freely – you’d be campaigning for us to scrap agricultural subsidy so as to allow farming to thrive. Instead, like a good social democrat sucking at the taxpayers teat, you call for more regulation, more price controls and more taxpayers money directed to special interest groups.