I have a lot of sympathy with tenant farmers. It is sometimes said that farmers are asset rich but income poor, by which it is meant that they own a lot of extremely valuable land but don’t make a whole lot of profit from working it. In the case of tenant farmers, who have to rent their land, they are too often asset poor and income poor.
The UK Tenant Farmers Association recently held its annual jamboree and, fresh back from his half term holiday in Egypt, National Chairman Greg Bliss gave a speech. He used the occasion to share some observations about agriculture policy that I thought might be of interest to readers of this blog. For those who are not familiar with a dialect known as ‘farm union leaderese’ (which is rare, though it can be found all over Europe and North America) I have provided translations of the key passages.
“One of the Common Agricultural Policy’s aims and benefits was the stabilisation of markets which, when we moved to decoupling, was deliberately undermined. The slavish adherence by some, particularly within our own Government, to the ideology of the free market does, I’m afraid, produce negative consequences.”
Translation: “Back in the good old days, the Common Agricultural Policy was a racket that meant we farmers got high prices all the time, and consumers picked up the tab. These days prices are set by something I don’t quite understand but I’m told is called supply and demand.”
“I see part of the TFA’s role as to ensure a greater degree of pragmatism in policy development which answers the needs at the time according to the factors on display rather than forcing a predetermined ideology to fit the current circumstances.”
Translation: “The TFA will lobby agriculture ministers here in the UK and in Brussels to remind them that their job is a simple one: to keep shoveling as much taxpayers’ money to our members and maintain as many restrictive practices as possible.”
“The TFA understands the desire to maintain the wildlife habitats that have been created by set-aside. Our argument is that the best way to achieve that goal is to incorporate it as a voluntary element into the Environmental Stewardship Schemes already in place.”
Translation: “I don’t give a damn if the RSPB has got a million members. It’s my land and if I want to plough it up the ickle birdies, the squirrels and the fluffy bunnies can all go to hell. Get a life, get a tractor.”
“The TFA’s belief is that we should be doing as much as we can domestically to fulfil our existing and future food needs and this will require a revolution in Government thinking which has seen agriculture as part of the problem and not part of the solution.”
Translation: “It’s high time this country grew more of its own food. Let’s start by covering the countryside with plantations growing coffee and tea. I want to see our hedgerows bursting with bananas and mangoes and tenant farmers raising new harvests of cocoa, cotton and palm oil. It’s all about innovation and seizing new opportunities. All we need a new and fully-funded EU Tropical Products Development Scheme!”