CAP reform must not overshadow collaboration on family-owned farms
SMALLER family farms need better access to rural development funds to enable them to break free of subsidy dependence, a meeting of the Family Farmers Association (FFA) in Westminster heard last week.
NFU vice-president Adam Quinney, whose wife now runs the family farm near Redditch, West Midlands, told the audience that CAP funding was still inaccessible and unfavourable to smaller farm enterprises.
He was especially scathing of rural development funding, split between environmental schemes, modernising the farming sector and helping the rural economy. He said it had been largely ‘wasted’.
He said: “When I go to France and I see the Limousin bull testing centre at Lanaud, where they’ve got 800 bulls on test at any one time to improve the genetics in their herd, I ask myself what are we doing in the UK. I can’t find anything similar?”
“If you look at other countries in Europe they have actually taken a long-term view of agriculture and a real strategy about what they want to do, what they want to improve, whether it’s training or research and they have used that rural development money.
“I look around at how we’ve used rural development here and I find it extremely frustrating that a lot of it has been wasted. It’s not about increasing that budget but spending it better. We need a strategy in the UK for how we want to spend it and I think it should be used to improve the efficiencies and knowledge within our industry.”
Mr Quinney said larger businesses sometimes had the advantage of additional staff which allows them to access the rural development funds.
“When I speak to young farmers around the country they actually say the CAP is becoming less relevant to them. What they are looking for is business opportunities. But one of the areas small farmers do suffer is under rural development when there’s a minimum grant, which makes any small scheme on the farm difficult to get. The bureaucracy is just as big whether it’s £5,000 or £50,000.
“There needs to be much more simplification and quite often that is down to the member state, not Europe. I can’t see the point in young farmers just starting out needing to provide three years’ worth of accounts for a £2,000 grant. It’s disproportionate to the money involved,” said Mr Quinney.
While still the bedrock of farming in the UK, there was concern expressed by many at the FFA meeting about issues including the council sell-off of tenancies, fair markets and supporting the next generation.
“One of the things I am always grateful for is my father giving me the reins of the farm at the age of 24 and telling me to get on with it. It was an extraordinarily bold thing to do and am sure he knew I was going to make loads of mistakes. But actually, in that next 10 years, I did a huge amount, set up several businesses and went for it in a way I don’t think I would have done if I hadn’t had the opportunity until my 40s.”
Helen Browning, tenant farmer in Wiltshire and Soil Association chief executive
Soil Association chief executive Helen Browning, who runs a tenant farm near Wiltshire, told the meeting family farms needed to focus on creating self-reliant, long-term businesses.
“When I started farming in 1986, one of the reasons I went down a really market-focused route and getting involved in selling my own products was because I did not believe there would be a CAP in 10 or 15 years’ time. I felt I had to make sure I was as self-reliant as possible, create my own markets and shouldn’t be banking on the CAP to get me out of trouble,” she said.
Mrs Browning said the key for the survival of family farms was about well-managed businesses and bringing in the brightest and best talents. She said they needed to be much better at co-operating with other other smaller farms, whether it be through sharing machinery or enterprises or by working to find good partners and markets in the supply chain.
Some FFA members at the meeting also spoke out in favour of minimum prices for farm goods. However, both Mrs Browning and Mr Quinney said such an idea would not work in the face of cheaper imports and rising input costs.
“Farmgate prices now are higher than they’ve ever been and farms still struggle because input prices have been going up. I think what we need is fairer and more transparent supply chains,” said Mrs Browning.
“There are a lot of county council tenants with nowhere to go. The larger estates are letting out the houses and giving the farmland to other tenants who farm themselves. Why? Because estate owners can get much more money from letting the house than they could get for the land and the farm together.”
Michael Hart, tenant farmer in Cornwall
“Family farms can only survive in the marketplace. That’s why it’s important they are able to engage in fair dealing, something they haven’t been able to do over the past few decades. So the sooner we get the supermarket watchdog in place with the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill the better.”
Andrew George, Cornwall MP