Post Brexit Agricultural Subsidies

The post Brexit vote represents a golden opportunity to rethink the way that British agriculture is subsidised, in deed whether it should be subsidised at at all. The prevailing wind however seems to be business and handouts as usual.

At the moment there are a number of key sectors that the government, of whichever colour, seem to believe should be beneficiaries of the tax payers hard earner pounds.  Failing banks, exploitative employers who’s low paid zero hour workers need income support payments to live, the arms industry with guaranteed orders, export insurance and diplomatic lobbying, and farmers.

Well actually not all farmers, the bigger the better. Of the £2.9 billion that UK farmers received in 2014-15 from the European Common Agricultural Policy around 80% goes to the largest 20% of farmers. According to the Brussels journalist group the top recipients include such hoary hand sons of the land as Tate and Lyle, Nestle, British Sugar, and Kraft Foods not to mention some of the UK’s largest landowners such as the National Trust and the Duke of Westminster, even Iain Duncan Smith’s family pocket £150,000 a year of European tax payers money.

The irony is, that despite the reforms to the CAP to link payments to environmental policies, the main beneficiaries of the handouts are some of the worse eco offenders, particularly the mono-culture sugar beet companies. You want a drab countryside with thin top soil, streams full of NPK, pesticides and fungicides plant sugar beets.

A number of voices are calling for the Leave vote to herald a tooth and nail overhaul of the way that British agriculture is structured and supported. The National Trust, the UK’s largest farmer, has called for an end to price subsidies and the concentration of support to be focused on environmental and conservation work. The Campaign to Protect   England’s Rural  New Model Farming project sees a golden opportunity to support smaller farmers and break from the industrial agriculture model that the present European Common Agricultural Policy has helped create. The Countryside Landowners association, which represents, err,  Landowners the main benefactors of the existing regime  naturally disagrees, as does their political wing, the National Farmers Union.

On the progressive fringes the Land Workers Alliance have put together More Farmers, Better Food- A framework for British Agricultural policy  one of the better documents I have read on the issue for sometime. It combines the issue of food security, the environment, rural services, workers rights and the role of smaller and organic farms in the food chain. However while worthy and certainly worth supporting they will be very marginal in the present climate. Apart from the Green Party there is nobody inclined to listen to them.

More mainstream a wide range of food, environmental, fisheries lobbying groups, campaigns and NGOs wrote an open letter to David Davis calling for a comprehensive environmentally centered policy for food and farming.  Who knows change could happen, it will get a few articles in the Indie and the Guardian,  but the noises so far from the May government are not encouraging.

Phillip Hammond, the Chancellor (Finance Minister for non English readers) has announced that the £6 billion the UK receives from the EU annually for farming, academic projects and regional development will be honored until 2020. Well he had to really, farming, academic projects and regional development all involve long term planning and delivery, and anyway with the clowns given responsibility for Brexit, Davis, Johnson and Fox it is rather wishful thinking that they can sort out the mess they have got the UK into in the next 10 years let alone three.

The problem of negotiating Brexit is one major problem for the agricultural sector, the second is that the UK does not have an agricultural policy, none, zilch, nadda. British agricultural policy has been set by the EU Council of Agricultural Ministers, so all we have is our position in relation to the policies devised by the European Commission under the orders from that Council. All the UK’s agricultural policy is is a critique of the EU policy which the UK shoulders equal responsibility with the other EU members for having created in the first place.

So someone somewhere had better come up with some policies rather sharpish. Andrea Leadsom, the new Minister for DEFRA and a former city banker knows all about subsidised industries, albeit under rather different circumstances. However the only “agricultural” policy opinion she has that is on public record is her support for fox hunting, hardly an encouraging start. So let’s hope she can get up to speed fast. There are however a few issues she may need to sort out, under the Cameron regime DEFRA was really hollowed our, it’s budgets slashed and staff reassigned. The agricultural staff left at DEFRA have a sort of revolving door policy with the industry lobby the National Farmers union, which is more a business association than a union as such.

With the new government’s agricultural policies  unclear, not least it would appear unknown to those responsible for them the best indication is what the NFU are saying as they will have the largest voice in forming any policy.

Early indications are that inertia will be the guiding motivation. In the NFU’s  response to the rather modest proposals put forward by the Campaign to Protect of Rural Enland’s New Model Report was a highly defensive “Our members are doing a good job- business as usual”.

In response to Brexit the NFU has launched a three month consultation exercise with their membership, the key note document can only be read by members but a quick presentation can be viewed here. The key NFU argument is food security, i.e. producing as much of the country’s food in country so in the event of catastrophic events like war the UK does not starve. It is the old condom argument so effectively used for Trident, better to have one and not use it than need one and not have it.

In someways food security and local sourcing loved by us organic food producers and environmentalists coincide, both argue for supporting local production and both are resistant to long supply chains. However food security has little to be with environmental issues. An apple can be grown with one of the few varieties now taken by supermarkets, flown to a fruit polishing plant in South Africa, returned to the UK and sold in a Tescos near you and still be British while for an environmentalist it has a huge carbon footprint and the buying policies of the supermarkets are destroying biodiversity and food choice. Equally, local if you live in Cornwall could well be Brittany not the Scottish highlands.

But food security for the NFU means the covering to justify the present system, Brexit gives the NFU the chance to lobby for further protectionism under the guise of food safety, further subsidies for the replacement for imports.  There is nought as nationalist as a farmer looking for a hand out, unless of course that money is coming from Brussels.

Where it is going to get quite interesting is on casual agricultural labour, seasonal labour is a crucial part of many farms. How will the NFU deal with the issue may raise a wry smile.


Les Néo Paysants


neopaysantsLes Néo Paysants, Gaspard d’Allens and Lucile Leclair

Edition Seuil with Reporterre

French agriculture is in plain crisis. The idyllic countryside so beloved by tourists and the French imagination is in most cases just that, an imaginary fantasy, a rosy glassed memory of a time past that in reality never existed.

France remains Europe’s largest farming nation, producing 18% of the EU’s agricultural output, that is of course pre Brexit figures. 53% of mainland France is farmland, and France is Europe’s largest producer of cereals, maize, sugar, beef, and of course wine.

The reality is however that a farmer commits suicide two day of the year, in the last ten years over 10,000 farms have disappeared and 200,000 agricultural jobs have disappeared. On average 200 farms close up ever week, for every two workers in agriculture who retire only one new starts.

The average debt per farm has risen from 50,000 euro in 1980 to 163.700 euro in 2011.This rise in debt has been driven by two key pressures, firstly the need to increase the size of a farm to maintain a standard of living under threat from lowering prices with the necessary investment in new larger machinery to exploit this large surface, the second is the increase in pesticide use, despite the Ecophyto project aiming to reduce chemical us in agriculture by 50%between 2008 and 2018 the use of pesticides has actually gone up by 5%

In France the most common size of farms is between 50 and 99.9 hectares of agricultural land , representing 97,780 farms, or 19% in 2010. The avaerage farm size has been steadily growing, from hectares in 7 in 2005. At the top end size wise, farms over 100 hectares now farm 59% of France’s agricultural land

This concentration at the top end of the pyramid is also reflected in the type of agriculture, the mixed farming of the past is being replaced by monoculture farming, dominated by cereal production and large scale animal farming, particularly milk and beef production.

Increasingly run by farmers who rarely “Get down from their tractors” as the French say. Farmers have less and less control of what they produce and how. Software programmes plugged into the latest Common Agrcultural Policy support regime decide what is sown when. Outsourcing of the key farming functions, ploughing, sowing, harvesting to work crews is more and more common. It is the major seed companies, as a condition of sale of their sterile seeds, that determine the treatments that each cereal has to be sprayed with little if any understanding of the nature of the ever thinning top soil.

Animal raising is also turning into a industrial process, whether it be shed farming of chickens, veal, pigs and beef or the faact that in Brittany, France’s leading meat producing region 78% of fodder is now bought in, almost 100% for chickens, pigs and veal production. A growing trend is that farmers actually do not own the animals they raise, they ‘bed and breakfasting’ for fixed periods of time, with feed and antibiotic treatments been delivered by the owner, often a food company not a farmer.

It is no surprise to see that the number of agricultural workers in France has plunged, in 1988 it stood at 1,176,567 , by 2007 it had dropped to 770,000.

The tradition of family farms that pass from generation to generation is breaking up, a survey in 2914 showed that 42% of farmers did not expect their siblings to take over the enterprise.

So is this slow decline and concentration inevitable, and what can be done to shift towards a more humane and environmentally sustainable agricultural system?

In Les Néo Paysants Gaspard d’Allens and Lucile Leclairlook at one encouraging trend, the neo ruralists that are turning to the farming despite not coming from an agricultural background. Now as any French film buff will tell you neo ruralists are not exactly a new phenomena. Marcel Pagnol’s Jean de Florette is all about one family and their efforts. The post 1968 generation can still be spotted hanging about at organic festivals, indeed the Domaine de Montrouch was first renovated by a 1968 couple motivated by their Maoist politics.

In Les Néo Paysants the authors use tye simple took of visiting a wide range of neo ruralists accross France anduses their experiences and context to address the key issues facing French agriculture. It is a superb introduction to the skills and experience that neo ruralists bring to their new profession, as well as the wide range of small scale agricultural projects that are re animating rural French life.

Today 30% of all new agricultural start ups are neo paysants, over 60% of these new farms are organic or in transition to organic production. France is now Europe’s third largest organic producer, behind Spain and Italy with 4% of agriculural land now under organic production representing 1.1 million hectares of farm land.

Equally important there is a strong tendency to move away from the industrial productivist model. That does not mean however a less intensive agricultural model, small scale mixed farming if done in an integrated way can be a very productive use of available land. This is true about horticultural production although organic rules about the space required for animals means that meat production requires more land per head, equally organic cereals and viticulture have on the whole lower yields per hectare. Recently released research from the Rodale Institue on it’s thirty year comparison of industrial agriculture yields vs organic methods however cast doubts on this generalization see It is naturally being contested by the industrial agriculural lobby.

Alternative marketing systems are slowly emerging, from local producers markets, organic markets, box schemes, to local producers co op shops. Restaurateurs are finding that marketing themselves as users of locally produced products and traditional recipes are attracting a loyal clientele. Here in France school canteens are being actively encouraged to source locally. Increased consumer interest in organic and local production has been a factor in the growing market aided by associations such as the Slow Food movement.

Such positive developments however can be over egged, the rise of out of town shopping centres, the French are second to the US on them, low cost supermarkets, pre-prepared meals and fast food all means that we are a long way from an alternative food paradise. Having more pizzerias than Italy, and being McDonald’s second most profitable market show that the reality is going to be a lot harder to change than green activists would have one believe.

Estivale de la bio d’Olargues

Estivale de la bio d’Olargues
Lun 15 août 2016
Organisateur : CIVAM Bio 34

80 exposants (producteurs, transformateurs, artisans, associations) proposent de découvrir leurs produits : vins, fromages, viandes, miels, confitures, pains, huiles, fruits et légumes …
Des exposants présentent aussi des vêtements, cosmétiques, huiles essentielles et parfums bio…

80 exhibitors (producers, processors, artisans, associations) propose to discover their products: wines, cheeses, meats, honey, jams, breads, oils, fruits and vegetables …
Exhibitors propose also clothes, cosmetics, organic essential oils and perfumes …

Pour les amateurs de jardinage, on peut trouver des semences bio, des produits naturels pour le jardin, des livres sur le jardinage bio et des conseils personnalisés.

For home gardeners, you can find organic seeds, natural products for gardens, books on organic gardening and personal advice.

Ecoproduits, éco habitat et artisanat sont aussi au rendez-vous !
Un espace restauration et des stands dédiés permettent aux visiteurs de faire une pause bio dans la journée.


Marché de produits biologiques, écoproduits, écohabitat, artisanat


Programme :

9h – 19h30 : Marché de produits biologiques, écoproduits, écohabitat, artisanat, énergie renouvelable…

9h – 14h : Ateliers culinaires avec les produits biologiques du marché
Réalisé par Benjamin ANDRE, Diététicien-nutritionniste.
9h – 19h : Land art, argile, peinture, origami, éponge écolo, jeux en bois
Animés par l’association « Les happy bio verts »

9h30 – 11h : « Economie d’énergie dans l’habitat et Aides financières à la rénovation énergétique »
Conférence de Ferréol COERCHON, Conseiller Info Energie au Pays Haut Languedoc et Vignobles.

10h – 12h : Atelier de peinture végétale
Animé par l’association BAOBANE

10h – 18h : Animation musicale « Ambiance Guinguette » et annonces des moments forts
Réalisée par INDIGOK Duo de musiciens

10h – 18h : Ateliers « gestion des déchets : bougeoir en canette et porte monnaie en briques alimentaires »
Animés par le centre CEBENNA

11h -11h30 : « Jouons sur les thèmes Nature, Sciences, Curiosités et spécialités locales »
Animé par Hélène PAGES, INDIGOK Duo de musiciens

11h – 11h30 : Atelier « Faire soi-même ses cosmétiques et ses produits d’entretien »
Animé par « Les happy bio verts »

11h – 12h : « Réussir son jardin naturel et économe en eau »
Conférence de Catherine GARNIER, Association Les jardins de Tara (relais des éditions écologiques Terre vivante ®).

11h – 18h30 : Maquillage pour enfants
Réalisé par « Doubles Faces », maquilleuses de spectacle

11h30 – 12h : Apéro conté, suivi du petit vin blanc
Animé par une troupe de conteurs amateurs et INDIGOK

13h – 15h : Atelier de peinture végétale
Animé par l’association BAOBANE

13h30 – 15h : « Pourquoi et comment manger bio sans se ruiner »
Conférence de Claude AUBERT, Ingénieur agronome – écrivain pionnier de l’agriculture biologique (co-fondateur de Terre Vivante®).

14h -15h : Sieste contée « Conte du monde pour se détendre »
Animée par Virginie LAGARDE, Conteuse

14h30 – 15h : « Jouons sur les thèmes Nature, Sciences, Curiosités et spécialités locales »
Animé par Hélène PAGES, INDIGOK Duo de musiciens

15h – 15h30 : Atelier « Faire soi-même ses cosmétiques et ses produits d’entretien »
Animé par « Les happy bio verts »
15h – 16h : « Alimentation vivante et santé »

Conférence d’Agnès SLACIK-MARTIN, Nutri-thérapeute (Phytozen® Cévennes).
15h – 16h : Spectacle « L’école des petits clowns »
Réalisé par Christian SAVIER, Compagnie ENCIMA

16h – 17h : « Le numérique libre : se passer de Windows®»
Conférence de l’association Les Happy Bio verts.

16h – 17h : Atelier jardinage
Réalisé par le CIVAM Bio 34

16h – 18h : Sculpture de ballons
Réalisé par Christian SAVIER, Compagnie ENCIMA

16h – 16h30 : TOMBOLA de l’Estivale de la bio

16h30 – 17h : « Jouons sur les thèmes Nature, Sciences, Curiosités et spécialités locales »
Animé par Hélène PAGES, INDIGOK Duo de musiciens

17h – 17h30 : Initiation à la Zumba enfants
Animée par Sigrid BOGAERTS, Association Zumba Pilates

17h30 – 18h : Initiation Zumba adultes
Animée par Sigrid BOGAERTS, Association Zumba Pilates

16h – 18h : Atelier de peinture végétale
Animé par l’association BAOBANE

18h – 19h : Visite historique du village médiéval d’Olargues
Réalisé par Jean-Claude BRANVILLE, 1er Adjoint au Maire d’Olargues


Téléchargez le programme au format pdf

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