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BRITISH AGRICULTURE ― Why radical change is needed

Joe Pearce

AGRICULTURAL support costs Britain at least £2 billion a year, perhaps twice as much if all the direct and indirect subsidies are taken into account. Against this, measures to reduce farming surpluses announced recently by the Agriculture Minister, Michael Jopling, are hopelessly inadequate.

A grant of £25 million to encourage alternative land uses represents no more than a paltry 1 per cent of the total annual subsidy. The remaining 99 percent of the budget will continue to subsidise overproduction.

Given the size of the surplus problem, such ineffectual tinkering with agricultural subsidies is less than useless. Clearly, a more radical approach is needed. Some observers have suggested a massive extension of "set-aside" policy, aimed at taking agricultural land out of production. Current studies suggest that somewhere between 3 and 15 million acres should be taken out of production by the end of the century, if surpluses are to be eliminated without altering farming methods substantially. In practical terms such a policy could mean up to a third of all UK farmland being taken out of production.

REJECTED

Such a policy must be rejected out of hand. A drastic reduction of farmland on this scale can only have a harmful effect on the long-term ability of British agriculture to provide the nation's needs.

However, it is clearly undesirable to pump more than £2 billion of taxpayers' money every year into the pockets of farmers in the form of subsidies to pay for food which is not needed. What, then, is to be done?

The only solution which will benefit the British farmer, the British countryside and the British people is a radical change in farming techniques. Intensive farming practices must be scrapped and there must be a return to traditional mixed farming. The reasons for this will become apparent when one considers the harm which intensive farming does to the environment in general and the soil in particular. Soil erosion in the UK is increasing rapidly. The Soil Survey of England and Wales estimates that some 44 per cent of arable land is now at risk from erosion. Erosion rates of 20-30 tonnes of soil per hectare per year are not uncommon on agricultural land monitored by the survey.

Though a number of soil scientists are now thoroughly alarmed, the government continues to ignore the consequences and public perception of the problem is almost non-existent.

Intensive farming practices continue to damage the wider environment by virtue (or should that be vice?) of the ever more liberal use of pesticides, and the continuous removal of hedgerows and ploughing up of florally diverse permanent pastures.

Bearing all this in mind, it becomes blatantly obvious that a "de-intensification" of farming practice is desirable. A reduction in inputs of pesticides and fertilisers and a shift away from intensive livestock husbandry (which is often both morally repugnant and environmentally damaging) could substantially reduce costs to a point where subsidies become unecessary. Certainly this would be the case if the government protected British farmers by pulling out of the economically disastrous Common Market with its equally disastrous Common Agricultural Policy.

It goes without saying that a radical shift of this nature in agricultural policy will involve a radical change in farming practice, with a return to traditional mixed farms being the most obvious, and welcome, outcome.

Traditional farming techniques are proven to have major environmental benefits in the form of reductions in soil erosion, pesticide use and the maintenance of aesthetically pleasing, and often ecologically valuable, landscape diversity.

The emphasis on traditional mixed farming will also have another major benefit. Mixed farms, cultivated in a traditional way, have no need to be run on a massive scale like the agri-businesses which currently plague the British landscape. The same economies of scale do not apply. This will be especially so if smaller farms co-operate with each other in the same way that their counterparts do in Denmark and elsewhere.

In practical terms this means the removal of all obstacles to the re-establishment of thousands of new small farms to replace the present massive agri-businesses which have been responsible for disfiguring the British countryside. The result of such a large-scale return to the land will be the establishment of a healthy yeoman class which has been absent from this country for two hundred and fifty years.

Thus we see that National' Front agricultural policy is ecologically desirable, saving the British countryside from soil erosion and chemical poison. Thus we see also that NF agricultural policy is economically desirable, saving the British taxpayer at least £2 billion a year. Most important of all NF agricultural policy will bequeath to future generations of Britons a life fit to live and a land fit to live in.