Memorandum submitted by Geoffrey H Cole,
MA (Agric) Cantab
THE FUTURE OF UK AGRICULTURE IN THE WAKE
OF THE 2001 FOOT AND MOUTH EPIDEMIC GENERALLY AND IN RELATION
TO LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION, THE ESA'S, THE UPLANDS AND GRASSLAND
MIXED FARMING AREAS
Long before the ructions surrounding the Live
Export trade in sheep and calves, the BSE crisis, Salmonella in
poultry and eggs, E. Coli 0157, overuse of antibiotics and Organo-phosphates,
British farming was in disastrous condition. As one Cumbrian farmer
succinctly put it when he was criticised for investing some of
his compensation money for the livestock he'd lost into racehorses. . .
"Ah's honest". . . "Ninety per cent of them were
bankrupt afore Foot and Mouth struck and the compensation they
received got them and their bankers off the hook. . ."
From 1990 to the present day British farmers
have suffered the same exploitation as befell the Danish Farmer
from 1880 to 1910 and the events which eventually forced change
happened in an almost identical sequence.
Ever since 1979 the Tory party has noised on
about the need to reform the CAP but they did nothing about it
because basically they were paying out European money so why should
they care? Farmers are largely Tory voters, ignorant of the effect
that Thatcher's "handbag" rebate was having on them
and ever keen to fall for the well-spun Tory line that it was
these wicked Brussels Bureaucrats who were to blame. . .
My shelves are littered with report after report
on the reform of the CAP from Chris Patten to Gummer, Gillian
Shephard, to Waldegrave etc etc etc etc and today one hears gibes
from farmers pumped up by the NFU propagandists that this government
has. . . "no policy for the countryside. . ."
Well it has but it's not one that finds favour with the big farmers
who populate the general council of the Union and falls in with
their narrow vision of a countryside devoted to ever more production
of food which is not needed and we cannot sell.
The continuation of production subsidies
throughout the 1990's has been the ruination of the family livestock
business. . .
All production subsidy payments must be discontinued
forthwith. . .
Despite the screams of "let down"
this change must take place within 18 monthsno longerbecause
the accession timetable for Poland and the new applicant members
of the EU cannot be stretched out for the benefit of those large
farmers in arable Britain who already run off with 80 per cent
of the subsidies. . . My cousin, farming 700 hectares
near Newark, the best land in the country has no need of a subsidy,
acreage payment, set-aside etc etc. . . If he cannot make
a living or adapt on such land then he deserves to go out of business;
he has up to 20 options available to him. On this poor hill farm
I have about sixsuckler beef, sheep, calves, forestry,
limited B&B (gratis the Planning Board) or a second job to
pay for the groceries!!!
But the Labour party has to put something in
its place or it will be dammed for reforming the CAP, and having
no long term strategy.
Summarising the results of the pilot ESA scheme
in the Yorkshire Dales back in the early 90's Professor Riordan
said; . . . "The British are experts at scattering a little
money around like confetti and none of it doing much good".
We are in acute danger of treating agriculture
in the aftermath of F&M in just this way. We see a veritable
plethora of "Funding Agencies" apparently offering monies
for all sorts of worthy causes with the good of the countryside
at heart you will note.
However if the produce of the land cannot be
marketed so as to give the primary producer a fair return all
such initiatives will come to nothing.
At the end of last century the Danish farmer
was being exploited by the larger landowners and the big export
wholesalers supplying the burgeoning industrial populations of
Britain and Germany. They were being screwed into the ground in
exactly the same way as our farmers today are being plundered
by the high street supermarkets and its no good anyone in the
NFU or anyone else twittering on about level playing fields or
promoting British produce. The bottom line for them all is profit
and they don't give a damn who or where it comes from. . .
In order to negotiate with these vast companies
to obtain the best deal available farmers need to organise themselves
into production and marketing cooperatives just as the Danes have
The first Danish farmers cooperatively owned
and operated dairy was founded in Hjedding in 1872 and since then
the Danish farmer has rarely looked behind him. And today wherever
I look in Europefarmers think cooperative enterprises.
A group of Spanish farmers joining together to market a rather
special wine; Austrian and Slovenian farmers joining together
to produce and market organic foods in both countries of the south
Tyrol; the vegetable growers of Insel Reichenau in Lake Konstanz
forming a cooperative to counter the competition in the vegetable
trade from their arch rivals the Dutch; in Sweden and Finland
farmers who market the wood from their farms through a producer
cooperative sell their timber for 10 times what I get for it here.
While British farmers continue to attempt to
operate as exemplars of the robust 19th Century self-made small
capitalist entrepreneur and politicians "bum" them on
to do so they will be mercilessly exploited by a system which
demands cheap food whether it comes from Thailand or ArgentinaIndustrialists
keen to keep down costs (wages) and politicians anxious to placate
the unions have conspired together (not deliberately) to provide
the British public with "Cheap Food" from anywhere on
earth. . . because the Victorians and their industrial power made
My first experience of farmers' cooperatives
came to me when I worked on farms in Sweden 53 years ago. . .
I never saw my boss waste a minute standing around auction rings
as British farmers did. . . looking on and trying to assess "wat
traade was ganna be like". . . for his pigs sheep fat cattle
etc. That was the job of the marketing specialists employed by
the Headquarters organisations of the various producer cooperatives.
For 50 years I have watched our farmers being fleeced by dealers
in a marketing set-up which can only be described as mediaeval
because of pride, tradition and ignorance that there could be
any other way of doing things. Indeed whenever I have suggested
these views to farmers, especially the established middle-aged
ones, I am invariably admonished with ". . .Hoo wad ta git
a fair price widoot a hockshin. . .?" The simple fact never
seems to cross the minds of the NFU etc as to how a car manufacturer
decides on the production run of a proposed new model or the employment
of analysts who research the market.
Also politicians of all political parties must
bear a heavy responsibility for all that has happened since the
formation of the most successful marketing operation ever set
up by British farmers in response to the depression of the 1930's
namely the MMB. . . dubbed in my college days. . . "the sheet
anchor of British Farming. . .". So successful was it that
the political establishment took fright. To operate effectively
the Board controlled the whole product. . . you could only sell
to the board even though your milk might be collected by a Nestle
or a United Dairies lorry and politicians imagined that farmers
would operate restrictive practices and "SCREW" the
consumerthis they never did. After the depression of the
thirties the "regular" monthly milk cheque gave the
producer confidence. All the marketing boards set up after the
war had failure built into them. . . "cause you could sell
some of your eggs or potatoes or tomatoes at the farm gate thus
by-passing the price agreements negotiated by the respective boards.
They all failed with the exception of the Wool Board which again
had a monopoly of supply and still has. . .
At the very time as I write this certain farmers
are questioning the appointment and suitability of Sir David Naish
to be chairman of United Dairies to replace Lord Haskins. It was
the weak and woolly headed thinking of Naish who allowed John
Gummer to use EU competition regulations to break-up (destroy)
the MMB. The idiocy of this policy which promised gullible farmers
"competition for their milk" (when in fact there was
a glut and there should have been a cut-back in production) had
disastrous repercussions. It exacerbated the quota system and
in Britain as opposed to the continent allowed "smart Alex"
farmers to trade quotas which were in actual fact the property
of the EU commission. . . Furthermore unleashing the "dogs
of the market" into milk sales had the opposite effect to
the intention of the quota system. It destroyed the family farm
small producer. . . Worse still "open borders" allowed
the dairy companies to import as they wished so those very Tory-voting
big farmers now squeal and bleat about level-playing fields as
a result of the market forces experienced at the hands of Northern
Foods and Express Dairies. But Gummer was the fool who allowed
it to happen. . . A certain French president would have stood
Yet the Foot and Mouth Crisis has caused many
farmers to take their stock to the auction marts which have served
as collection, batching and despatching centres just as happens
as normal on the continent.
Thus the result in Denmark is that
no animal spends more than two hours in transit from farm to slakteriet.
. . and this was also the situation in pre-1989 Hungary.
Anyone who doubts the ability of farmers' cooperatives
to get the producer a fair deal should study the history of the
Cooperative movement on the continent and ask themselves, for
example, who founded Brittany Ferries? In the fifties the Breton
vegetable growers were dumping produce on the streets in their
battles for a better deal from the French Government. To expand
their markets they wanted to sell at Covent Garden so they bought
a ship to sail their produce from St Malo to PlymouthFrench
farmers acting cooperatively founded one of the most successful
Ferry Companies on the Channel. Likewise the largest shareholders
in Danish Seaways were for a long time the Danish Farmers cooperatives.
. . Success speaks success. . .
If the Labour party want to make a valuable
contribution to a stable future for British farmers they must
be prepared to finance farmer/producer cooperatives throughout
the country in bacon, eggs, pigmeat, mutton, beef, vegetables,
milk and dairy produce etc etc following the models which are
so successful in Europe. AND if need be the government has to
follow the French lead a few years ago where its young farmers
were concerned, by introducing a large element of carrot and a
big stick. . . viz ". . .we will give you a generous start-up
loan but you will join a cooperative won't you. . ."
As I write this I hear that the site of the
Lockerbie Meats abattoir is to be sold off as a car park. . .
a facility which the livestock producers of the Borders desperately
need. It was John Gummer in the '90s who knew what the EEC regulations
required (only 12 of our abattoirs complied at that time) but
he refused to give the industry long term loans or grants to modernise;
so the facilities shrank and the F&M crisis revealed a huge
haulage operation of hapless animals being trucked about the countryspreading
disease and lining the pockets of dealer farmers.
Without a complete reorganisation
of marketing the British farmer is a lost causea continuing
drain on society (whether he is bleating for an increase in the
ewe premium or gloom over the low price of corn. . .)
Worse still, we are 100 years behind the European
competition in these matters. Indeed we have allowed the supermarkets
to take over many of the functions which should be under our control
(meat hygiene and quality control should be done by usafter
all it's our product and the farmer suffers when there isto
quote the Guardian's cartoonistSteve Bell. . . "shit
on the meat".
Only by running the job ourselves can we stop
such disgraceful practices as the rebranding and redating of milk
by cowboy companies or sale of broiler chickens pumped up with
50 per cent by weight of water. . . Farmers and their industry
get the blame for these disgraceful operations.
Already the Danes and the Dutch are setting
up "sister cooperatives" in the applicant countries
Poland and Hungary. . . So either the Pigs will go to the grain
or vice versa (remembering that up until the First World War these
countries were the bread basket of Europe) consequently these
two countries will divide up the European market between them!!!
And the Oliver Walstons of this world could find their grain prices
falling even lower. . .
The Fatstock Marketing Corporation set up in
the fifties was not a true cooperative for there were shareholders
whose voting strength was related to their share holdings or the
volume of trade done by them. I sold my fatstock on deadweight
basis and by-and-large did as well as I would have done at the
auction; my stock went straight to the abattoir and I was free
of the ridiculous market day ritual apparently so enjoyed by older
farmers (or is it popular as an excuse for a day out and a gossip
away from the missus!)
FMC failed because when the main shareholders
saw an opportunity to make a fast buck they sold out. Therefore
any cooperatives set up with start-up aid from government must
follow continent practice to the letter. . . one member one vote.
. . This means as in Holland that the man who takes 10 boxes of
Cox's Orange Pippins to the packing station has the same say in
the business as the man who drives in with four tonnes. (See Picture)
Here I quote from the Federation of Danish Farmers publication
about Cooperatives in that country. . .
"In several Western Countries there are
hybrids of cooperatives/corporate companies, where the farmers
own "shares" in their company and where these "shares"
are tradable. There are also cooperatives where people other than
own shares and capital and have influence. In Denmark the cooperatives
are kept pure. . ."
Fortunately there are some younger farmers who
realise that they do not, and will not have time to waste standing
about at auctionsif they are to survive in the farming
futuremany of them operating as "one man bands"
or doing a part-time job (as I have done). This is standard practice
all across the continentfrom northern Sweden to prosperous
Bavaria. . . but it should be stated that the NFU has never accepted
that people like me are "farmers" and that we are a
net gain to the rural economy as well as maintaining a strong
rural population (they have never accepted the OECD report of
But the writing is on the wall. . . the citizens
of Europe are prepared to pay for landscape, scenery, environmental
protection and enhancement. . . They are not going to pay for
surpluses of food no-one wants and cost the taxpayer vast amounts
of moneyfunds which we cannot afford to extend to eastern
However it should be noted that a discerning
public conscious of health issues are demanding ever larger quantities
of organic food. The Farmers Union with their maximum production
philosophies poured scorn on those of us who were pushing organic
three years ago. . . We were told it was. . . "a niche market
and would never catch on . . ." So today the British farmer
led by a union selfishly serving the biggest arable farmers, incapable
of market research, and arrogantly dismissive of the House of
Lords report on "Antibiotics in Food" 1998 finds himself
"up the creek without a paddle" while the Supermarkets
fight each other for supplies from all over the world!!!
It's a situation which an all-embracing national
farmers cooperative association would have market researched and
advised the various production sectors, eg the Dutch and Germans
realised the potential 15 years ago for the pink curly leafed
lettuce and promoted it. . . The progressive breeding for a long
lean carcass in the Swedish Landrace pig 50 years agoanother
example. (See third paragraph below.)
With production subsidies gone the role of the
family farmer must change to that of "Landscape gardener"
and be paid the average minimum wage for the country of their
domicile (. . . this would not cost as much as the present CAP
system). The large farmers on the best and most suitable farms
can manage without aid and enjoy their "economies of scale".
The prices for the produce of those smaller
farms and family units would be safeguarded along with that of
the big units by the co-operatives. In order to achieve this the
ESA schemes need to be vastly expanded to take in whole new areas
of the country, even individual farms/parishes of the prairie
counties (Linc, Cambs) where good landscape and traditional farming
patterns prevail eg the Welsh Border Counties, parts of the Eden
Valley, the Tweed Valley, the Weser Valley, Germany, or the Forests
farms of Finland.
As well as the co-ops we need Government to
set up Organisations like the Federation of Danish Co-operatives
or Sveriges Lantbruksforbund. These bodies are crucial to ensure
quality, standards, contracts, orderly marketing, branding, promotion
etc and product research. The scheme put up by Penrith Farmer's
and Kidds to slaughter locally produced livestock and livestock
products is a good one and deserves encouragement but Supermarkets
need continuity of supply and quality maintained to the highest
standards on which their customers can rely and demand eg "Danish"
or Holland Apples, Tomatoes etc. . .
"Fellbred" may be a good brand name
but its no use if it is just available in Cumbriait has
to become nationally recognisedas coming from and providing
a taste of Cumbria's internationally known Lakeland.
One of the problems which may well worry farmers
clinging on to the auction mart system is where would they off-load
all their old draft ewes for example? There is no reason why these
should not be processed at farmer-owned abattoirs, made into our
own brand of dog meat under a trade name such as "Wuffers"
or something like that. Already the auction companies are telling
farmers that the old system cannot go on where sheep were sold
in batches of from two to a hundred animals at a 10 per cent commissionthey
are saying that this is time consuming and uneconomic. However
mention of Farmers Co-operatives gives many of the traditional
auction companies severe palpitations. . . They do not seem to
realise that by acting as collecting, batching and despatching
centres they would make their money easier and still retain all
their "special" breeding sales and their property and
valuation work. No need either for farmers to lose their sacred
day out and gossip while they watched their stock collected and
loaded as determined by a national computer network matching demand
with supply on any given day.
But to do this Britain must be in the forefront
in setting up a microchip system of identification for the rapid
recording of animal details, numbers, origins etc. This requires
international co-operation and some investment on the part of
EU governments to set it up as we must do to protect member states
against another dangerous disease outbreak.
In moving to a system of orderly marketing on
co-operative lines which is necessary to meet the dual challenges
of foreign competition and the withdrawal of subsidies the changes
must not be entrusted to DEFRA and the NFU for these reasons.
The symbiotic relationship between these two
bodies has been a disaster for farmers, consumers and taxpayers
alike. When Thatcher sold off or privatised ADAS the Ministry
became nothing more than a subsidy "bran-tub", devising
ever more complicated regulations against fraud (F&M revealed
the ineffectiveness of the system) and gold plating, in the best
British fashion, relatively simple EU decisions. Like the NFU
they are stuck in Time-Warp of production subsidies. Farmers are
just a small piece of the rural jig-saw and policy to date has
given them a cockeyed and selfish opinion of their importance
against all the other interests in the countrysidean idea
that the CAP exists as a fund whose sole purpose is to top up
As Paul Flynn MP has admirably described the
situation, there have been no Royal Miners or Royal Marconi workers.
Farmers will have to learn to co-operate for their common good
and salvation or go out. They can stack supermarket shelves, or
do another job like anyone else as I had to do to live on a hill
farm; no use bleating that . . . "You've done nowt else but
farmin and don't want to do anything else". Well if that's
the case get back to your farms and shut up. . . but don't expect
the public to bail you out. . .
As the NFU only represent 33 per cent of farmers
and of those more than half are "horsiculture" farmers,
they must not be allowed to organise any co-operative ventures.
They have a totally reactive attitude to most proposals by government
and treat with scorn the Consumer Food groups and the environmental
organisations (eg Nitrogen sensitive zones). Only since F&M
have they made any moves towards co-operatives, shown no willingness
to follow the Europeans and continue to profess themselves the
best in the world. We seem incapable of learning from the competition.
. . it's a national failing.
With reference to my proposal that ESA farmers
should be remunerated in parallel with the average minimum wage
is not a plea for more subsidy. . . indeed the very opposite.
Farmers have been on a treadmill for the past
45 years; as prices have been reduced using a variety of methods
too numerous to list since the war and replaced with deficiency
payments leading through to headage payments and ultimately to
counting "bodies"the despicable practice which
played such a critical role in the spread of F&M.
(This sort of stupidity throughout the EU has
led to Italian Farmers being accused of counting non-existent
olive trees and consequent fraud. . . A favourite "jibe"
inspired by NFU/MAFF propaganda which seeks to portray the "Brits"
as whiter than white. Of course we wouldn't indulge in such dreadful
tricks would we? Funny thing, we have often noticed that in the
Shap fells area there has regularly been an outbreak of sheep-stealing
just before the "retention" period comes in around the
months of February/March which is reported in the local papers.
. . So "olive trees" have been known to "grow"
on Shap fells.)
This treadmill means that producers have been
forced to run ever faster to stand still. This temptation must
be removed for the good of farming, the countryside and the environmental
damage it causes.
The exact figures elude my memory but back in
the 1960's New Zealand Farmer magazine did a calculation of the
number of fat lambs you'd have to sell to pay for an average modest
tractor, then the figure was something like 3,000today
you would need three times as many. Hence the treadmill effect;
must produce more to maintain incomeapply more fertiliser
so borrow more moneyresult heavier crop. Present tractor/horse
power can't handle cropneed/must buy bigger tractor so
more borrowed moneyso the treadmill revolves again. The
bankers gainthe countryside loses.
This process may parade under the guise of economic
progress, or efficiency, or economies of scaleso every
farmer busts a gut trying to beat his neighbour, to earn that
little bit more cash to gobble up that smaller or adjoining farm,
maybe, in cahoots with another neighbour. The result in the long
term is obvious; a shrinking number of farmers, farm workers and
rural population. Give a farmer a subsidy and against falling
returns he cuts costs, fires staff and replaces his worker with
a bigger machineit's a familiar and regular pattern. .
. .And in the end, when the public realise that they are left
with a prairie landscape or upland sheep ranches the remaining
big farmers will turn round and wave "bye-bye" as they
fly off to their bungalows in the Canary Islands saying "If
Joe Public wants landscape he can pay for it". . . You politicians
sort it out!!!
It is not suggested that the basic income suggested
is given without any strings. It should be sufficient to maintain
a farming family in household necessities of life and a modest
form of transport in often remote areas on condition that they
farm in environmentally sensitive ways, carry out measurable,
identifiable long term good works and true etc etc. To this end
its time we reinstated ADAS to advise and oversee such a scheme
and remove at a stroke all the complicated form filling of which
farmers complain so bitterly.
To avoid the obvious temptation to work the
system, the payments should be designed so that it's one farmer
on one farm who gets the payment. . . To avoid the danger that
a farmer with two sons divides up a holding into three units "for
the records" and thereby gets three bites of the cherry when
in reality he's running one farm.
You may think that this is a preposterous suggestion?
However consider this scenario which more and more young people
and farmers sons are contemplating. (Incidentally research has
shown that the desire to follow in fathers' footsteps is weakest
in the areas of the richest and biggest farmers in the south and
east of Britain.)
Do you expect my son with a first class honours
degree in modern languages from Oxford University and an M.Sc.
in economics from the LSE to come back to farm here for my ESA
annual payment of £5,000 and the little one can make on a
hill sheep farm in the Lake District?. . . yet he loves the farm
and would like to do so. Or my neighbours girls now qualified
as teachers? Do you think they are going to face a life of hardship
and miserable returns by marrying a farmer just to enjoy life
in the Lake District. . . As visitors you enjoy the view. . .
but we cannot live off a view. . .
George H Cole MA (Agric)
14 December 2001
33 A submission of views and opinions from Geoffrey
H Cole, MA (Agric) Cantab, Bromley Farm, Mosser, Cockermouth,
a 209 hectare hill farm within the boundary of the Lake District
National Park, owner-occupied, situated in the Loweswater Valley
at an altitude between 175 and 250 metres above sea level. Back