If the CAP fits: time ticking on down on EU subsidies the gift that kept on giving will be no more

Brexit shambles continues apace. That overused phrase of politicians going forward is not applicable to the current state of Brexit negotiations which appear to consist of nothing more than each side eyeballing the other. And is that a nervous tic on the collective face of Britain’s farmers I detect?

A cursory riffle through May’s fantasy Brexit filing cabinet only as far as A for agriculture reveals something of the complexity of the task ahead, as a politician might say.

cap_reform_wordle

For an outsider like me it was hard to understand why so many farmers and landowners were quite so keen in voting to leave the European Union and the increasing murmur from these bodies suggest one or two are becoming a little bit sweaty that the future is not as rosy as it appeared when they voted to leave the reviled EU. But hope emerged for some in the guise of the ambitious Michael Gove with his promise of  a ‘green Brexit’ and promise, if qualified, of continuing subsidies. He is not the first person I associate with a commitment to green policies and suspect the green he’s contemplating is a fig leaf and his ‘earned subsidies’ is an early warning that not all will be as it was under CAP.

That it was never on the cards that the generous EU subsidies would continue post-Brexit either didn’t occur to Brexiteer farmers or else they assumed the British government would step in and fill the void left post-CAP – such blind faith.

The National Farmers’ Union of Scotland has pounced on Gove’s words as recognition of its position on the need for continuing support for certain farming communities. It welcomes Gove’s ‘must be earned’ statement and with another leap of faith declares Scottish agriculture  must receive –

‘the same levels of funding as it currently receives ring-fenced and spent in new and more effective ways to improve productivity, efficiency and resilience.’

The NFU Scotland talk of making farming and crofting more profitable but just what that will mean is anyone’s guess – family farms already operate with minimum labour comprising mainly of the farmer and any family he or she has – working from before dawn until late into the night seven days a week. How that could become leaner is not apparent. Food prices could rise, as they are doing, bringing about even more squeeze on farmers by supermarket chains. Where does that leave Scotland’s crofters and hill farmers already eking out scant livings? How persuaded will Mr Gove be that they are deserving of financial support once that falls into Westminster’s lap?

Farming subsidies were introduced in the UK a century ago by the government concerned by severe food shortages during the First World War when 60% of food was imported. Minimum wages for those involved in agriculture and guaranteed produce prices were imposed until 1921 and during the 1930s protectionism was again high on the agenda. At the end of World War Two government intervention guaranteed payments to farmers to encourage an expansion in food production while rationing continued long after the end of war.  

It was in 1958 the contentious Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the then European Economic Community was introduced to boost food production across the EEC and provide reassurance to food markets. (This was long before the UK joined it.)

The CAP worked well. Too well. It led to a grim landscape of beef, butter, fruit and vegetable mountains and wine and milk lakes as a means of keeping up prices for farmers. Some of this food was simply destroyed to maintain food prices at acceptable levels and some was dumped on poorer countries at a cost to their small-scale farming which could not compete against the collective might of the protected farmers within the EEC.

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When I looked at who are recent recipients of the EU’s agricultural subsidies I was astonished to find not only was it a list of the ultra rich but topping the list of payout recipients was sugar manufacturer Tate & Lyle. Along with the British sugar giant were French sugar giants, Spanish sugar giants, German sugar giants and a lesser giant from Poland. Sugar processors have attracted much criticism for their contribution to junk foods and their association with the huge rise in diabetes and because of pressure placed upon these industries in Europe to reduce their output they have been amply compensated by CAP subsidies.

Dairy companies have also been winners in the great EU scoop a fortune lottery. Along with sugar they are implicated in the junk food market and have attracted the attention of aid agencies for being supported at the same time they are dumping milk powder and butter on vulnerable markets and consequently undermining small producers in poorer nations.

In Scotland Balmanno Farms Ltd are lucky recipients of EU subsidies- qualifying for quite a bit in subsidy. Their ultimate parent company is Streetfield Property Company of the same address, presumably property developers.

What struck me was the number of recipients of public handouts who don’t sound like the everyday image of our local farmers: Broadway Tower Country Park Ltd; Execs of the Late Mrs C Campbell, Isle of Sky; Gisburne Park Estates Ltd; J and V Casey and son Ltd of New York – hang on a minute – New York? There is it appears a New York in Lincolnshire.

Because of difficulties some farmers have surviving by traditional agriculture diversification is encouraged and rewarded: rented out land; farm shops; tourism; woodland; improved land management so while Highland Grain Ltd of North Kessock  a cooperative mainly made up of  Black Isle and Easter Ross farmers who grow malting barley for whisky and get considerable amounts of cash from European Agricultural Fund fall firmly into the category of genuine farmers Flamborough Holidays Ltd must surely fall into the diversity grouping also attracting aid. Likewise Tongue and Farr Sports Association at Bettyhill, a community venture running a pool, spa, sauna and fitness suite in the north of Scotland. As for O’Neill’s Caravan your guess is as good as mine – and the same goes for Shield Engineering Syston Ltd. Then again Hound Parish Council at somewhere called Netley Abbey, Southampton appears along with The Royal Farms Windsor. Hello? What? The Queen picks up loadsamoney through her Sandringham Farms.

Trawling through the CAP list is time-consuming for it is very, very long with no fewer than 19,613 recipients listed in the UK and not a few, in fact quite the reverse, millionaires and zillionaires which suggest the EU CAP system is something of a money printing press for powerful agencies. One in five CAP handouts goes to toffs.

Khalid Abdullah al Saud, owner of Frankel the racehorse.

Prince Khalid Abdullah al Saud

The last thing you might imagine a Saudi prince really needed was a cash handout from the people of Europe but that’s because you aren’t a Saudi prince. Prince Khalid Abdullah al Saud has expensive pastimes – breeding racehorses and hobby farming on his Juddmonte Farms (registered offshore in Guernsey.) He enjoys CAP pocket money of around £400,000 a year.

the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/29/the-queen-aristocrats-and-saudi-prince-among-recipients-of-eu-farm-subsidies

Who is/was – delete as appropriate – the richest landowner in the UK? Easy question – it is of course the Duke of Westminster and wouldn’t you know it he is on the list as is vacuum cleaner man Sir James Dyson – sorry, the billionaire Dyson. Why?

From my neck of the woods is Frank A Smart who has done very nicely out of EU subsidies. He is described in the local press as a slipper farmer for he buys up land with subsidies attached and there is nothing at all illegal about this. On being questioned over the huge sums of money he receives each years Mr Smart replied to BBC news, “I don’t want to discuss any part of my business with the media, thank you.”  And why would he.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-37493956

Here in Scotland we are forever being told how much money shooting estates bring to the economy but not what the EU brings to grouse moors. Imagine how much good could be done with equivalent handouts to these barren areas of land preserved for the dubious activity of slaughtering defenceless birds and beasts by improving conditions to develop diversity of flora and fauna. The specious argument that subsidies can be justified as a reward to landowners as caretakers of land hardly applies to grouse moor lairds especially those whose gamekeepers persecute our magnificent raptors and other birds and animals, many of whom are protected (in theory.)

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/28/grouse-shooting-estates-shored-up-by-millions-in-subsidies

Farming in the UK is struggling if figures are to be believed and the average farmer, whatever that may be given who appears on the CAP list, could not survive without hefty payouts. Figures for last year indicated that the average farm made £2,100 from farming and £28,300 from subsidies.

In Scotland the average farm (excluding pig and poultry) made £23,000 profit from their business in 2014/15 which includes subsidies. They lost c £21,800 on agriculture but took in £39,900 in subsidies and other payments.

https://fullfact.org/economy/farming-subsidies-uk/

I noticed this year farms around Alford were ploughed and sown right up to dykes and fences with virtually no wild margins left for birds and wildlife. Is this the future? So much for Gove’s ‘green Brexit’ when cereal farmers post-subsidy will turn over every inch of their land and to hell with nature. Anyway out of the EU those pesky controls over pesticides will be lifted and production will be increased to make up for payout losses at no cost other than to our health and the environment.

The UK government says it will retain subsidies until 2022 by which time the money will have run out. In free-for-all post-Brexit Britain agriculture crops will be even more intensively sprayed with pesticides in attempts to compete with the big boys and will fail because then we will be the little brats. Our grass reared cattle and hill sheep will be reared for a niche market for they will be too expensive for most of us who will have to tuck into US beef pumped full of growth hormones, chlorine washed chickens and Frankenstein GM foods of every description. Gove’s green Brexit Britain will be a poorer and nastier place with horrible unhealthy food where the government will have to sit down and negotiate support for food producers at levels that will enable them to compete not only with the US but the EU as well.  

Last time the UK government stopped subsidising farming agricultural wages fell by 40 per cent in 12 months and then the threat to British cereal producers didn’t come from the US but from Canada. As a consequence people were thrown out of work, poverty increased and fertile land was abandoned and did not greatly improve until after World War Two with the introduction of guaranteed prices.

Back at the list at least one 14 year old received CAP payments but that’s not a category I could fit into although two folk over 100 years old also made it in so there’s a ray of hope for me. The centenarians were both dead – hope for us all – although if I were a farmer, especially a crofter or hill farmer in Scotland, I would be very very worried as 2022 approaches.

 

 

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