Monday, 9 December 2013

Tim Farron and the illusory wool boom...

Like Tim Farron, I represent a lot of sheep (although these are now going for economic reasons to be replaced with beef cattle and horses) so I'm always struck by his strange and limited connection to economic reality:

Tim Farron, South Lakes MP and chair of the all-party parliamentary hill farming group, said: "We need to do all we can to support our farming industry, particularly in the uplands where life can be a real struggle. This support and funding could make a massive difference to upland farmers throughout Cumbria and help show the next generation that there is a real future in a career in farming."

OK there's some votes in this for Tim but is he really saying that there is a 'career' in upland farming when - a breath earlier - we read this:

An upland farmer earns, on average, only £6,000 a year, which has led to a number of people leaving the industry.

Six grand-a-year! That's half the minimum wage and Tim Farron thinks that this is some sort of sustainable industry? There's more - despite a (rather illusory) 'boom', here's the economics of upland sheep farming explained:

Will Rawling, chairman of Herdwick Sheep Breeders' Association, said he was getting about 50p a fleece. It costs him 70p to have each animal sheared; bundling and transport fees take the total cost per sheep up to about £1.50, three times what he gets back. 

To be fair the article also says most farmers are "breaking even" but it does seem that, not only isn't there a boom, but farming sheep on the fells isn't a viable business. If Tim Farron had said this and continued with 'but we need to find ways to continue the job, done by hill farmers at the moment, of caring for the fells', I would be with him. But he didn't, he simply called, like the good liberal, for price fixing.



Bill said...

Tim Farron. A Liberal Democrat. Not a farmer. Not a business man. Kept on the Westminster Trough by the South Lakes townsfolk many of whom are offcomers.
Who'd have thought?

asquith said...

And then there's the question of whether there even are, as you seem to be implying, environmental gains...

... yes, hill farming keeps the Lake District and other upland areas as we're used to seeing them but is that desirable, or a good use of public money? I'm sure George Monbiot isn't on your Christmas card list but if you read his book "Feral" he advocated quite persuasively that much farmland, particularly on unproductive land, be allowed to go back.

There would be environmental benefits and no economic losses worth speaking of, in fact problems such as erosion and flooding would be dramatically eased. The only thing approaching an argument against is that the rural culture would suffer through loss of farming. And even then, we don't subsidise loss-making factories, and landowners could just as easily own trees as sheep from which they can't make a living in their own right.

Of course there is a debate to be had but I would certainly not start from the presumption that farming is obviously good, and that the landscape should endlessly stay as it is right now. (etc)