FARMING deserves a higher priority than is accorded it at present. The problem is very clear: we have considerable over-production of food; current European Community subsidies promote even higher production; cost-effectiveness requires the use of intensive methods of animal husbandry, and a reliance on pesticides and chemical fertilisers; soil erosion is an increasing ecological threat not least through the use of nitrates; the experience of milk production would not commend the further use of quotas. All this produces is large quantities of mediocre quality food that nobody wants. Appropriate quantities of high quality food would make more sense for everyone.
Add to this the decline in the number of small farms and the amount of land being held on to in the hope of a capital gain from acquiring planning permission for building development, and it is clear that farming is in crisis.
Numerically, farmers may have little political clout but it is in the national interest that a healthy agricultural industry is promoted and sustained.
The present basis of subsidy is clearly unhealthy but any substantial reduction in subsidy before it can be better targeted would simply make matters worse.
Liberal policies for agriculture are designed to encourage:
- farming to work with the environment rather than against (eg: organic farming);
a return to traditional farming;
- sustainable farming to the countryside (ie rotations, hedgerows, etc);
- the return of agricultural workers and their skills;
- the production of food free from pesticides and other chemicals;
- small farms and try to reverse the endless creation of larger and larger “agri-businesses”;
- provide financial support so that farming can proceed along the above lines.
To achieve these aims, Liberals call for:
- major changes in agricultural policy and subsidy to be announced as far as possible in advance so that producers can have time to plan for them;
- the switching of subsidies from quantity to quality over a negotiated number of years in each type of farming, so that there is a financial advantage in moving to organic farming and no encouragement of over-production;
- a more flexible scale of subsidy so that those doing a valuable job in difficult conditions – such as hill farmers – receive better financial recognition of their work particularly as it is often in such areas that farmers play a key role in preserving the traditional countryside for leisure use;
- the establishment of a Cooperative Land Agency under the control of the industry itself, with rules preventing the exploitation of land values through potential development. The agency would acquire and hold freeholds in order to encourage and assist tenant farmers – including farmer cooperatives – and to increase the number of smallholdings;
- positive action to retain and enhance services in rural areas. Liberals recognise that farming communities will find it difficult to survive without provision of basic services in the countryside such as village schools, post offices, public transport and in particular, housing, much of which has been lost by farm workers to those wanting second homes. To this end, Liberals find merit in widening the scope of agencies such as the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas;
- planning laws to be revised in order to protect good agricultural land from development, to introduce social considerations into the planning process and to allow legitimate appeals against the granting of planning permission;
- greater cooperative arrangements by farmers to improve their bargaining power in the market and to combat the dominance of over-powerful food retailers;
- the subsidising of ecologically sound alternatives to direct productive farming, including mixed afforestation and nature reserves;
- unnecessary restrictions on the sale of natural farm products, such as green top milk to be abolished;
- a tax on all pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, phased to encourage the conversion to organic farming, until such time as organic farming became the norm.
In light of the recent BSE scare, the Liberal Party calls for changes in the 1995 Feeding Stuffs Regulations compelling manufacturers of compound animal feeds to declare a full list of ingredients by their percentage weights in the statutory declaration.
Liberals recognise that farming bears the brunt of the country’s general economic ill health and that a reduction in interest rates is a key requirement for the survival of many farmers.
2001 Foot and Mouth Epidemic
Liberals called for a wide-ranging public enquiry into the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak, which we believe points to the need to restrict the movement of livestock between regions of the country and to the need to maintain local abattoirs and markets; Liberals believe that that one of the lessons to be learnt from the recent crisis is that the farming industry as currently constituted is highly susceptible to disease which is more likely to spread in an intensive farming regime in which livestock are highly mobile and across farms where specialisation, prairies and ranches have replaced smaller farms using more traditional methods. It is vital that any future outbreak draws on all the lessons learnt by both 1967 and 2001 disasters, with particular regard to the early involvement of the army.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
The present Common Agricultural Policy it is believed, encourages unacceptable extremes:
- vast areas of monoculture (barley, oil seed rape, etc);
- unbelievably large subsidy cheques for “barley barons”;
- a prairie style countryside which is detrimental to both land condition and the environment;
- a “Set Aside” scheme, which though having good environmental benefits in terms of habitat for birds, insects etc, has also acted in favour of the larger land owners who are more able to allocate land to such incentives.
Liberals believe that: allied to any recommendations of reduction to premiums paid to farmers are three points of paramount importance:
- there is a need to establish Minimum Threshold Payment yearly to ensure that the farmers are paid a reasonable amount for their produce and allow for them to continue in business;
- the introduction of consumer protection to ensure that the middle men/supermarkets do not increase their sales price to recover any increases created as a result of setting the threshold payments as above (1);
- the introduction of control of imports to ensure that quality and prices meet those of the home market.
In recognising the need to remove the reliance on subsidies Liberals also acknowledge that instant removal of any subsidy would cause hardship and possibly endanger the agricultural industry. The following proposals, which span a three year period of gradual reduction and ultimate removal are offered as a sympathetic and workable timetable in which to accomplish the necessary measures.
Accordingly we propose that:
A – Arable Area Payment should be amended as follows:
Introductory year – Removal of the existing two schemes and also of the ‘Set Aside‘ provisions in favour of one system, maintaining the existing qualification of 15.62 hectares maximum per claim, which will operate as follows
- 1st Year – One third reduction on existing payments, crop variation to be continued.
- 2nd Year – 1st year payment as above less one third, with same crop distinctions.
- 3rd Year – Half of 2nd Year payments, with same crop distinctions.
B – The Beef Special Premium
Introductory year of new policy – Limit 60 males, with two (2) levels of payment as follows:
- 1 – 30 animals (Steers and Bulls up to 21 months) 1st Premium
- 31 – 60 animals (Steers only over 21 months) 2nd Premium
Second year – Limit 40 males
- 1 – 20 animals (Steers and Bulls up to 21 months) 1st Premium
- 21 – 40 animals (Steers only over 21 months) 2nd Premium
Third year – Limit 20 males
- 1 – 10 animals (Steers and Bulls up to 21 months) 1st Premium
- 11 – 20 animals (Steers only over 21 months) 2nd Premium
C – The Suckler Cow Premium
Current Livestock Units (LU’s) based on 1 Suckler Cow per hectare of forage area should be maintained, but limits will be introduced for the same reasons as given above and premiums paid as follows:
Introductory year of new policy – Limit 60 animals
- 1 – 30 animals – 1st Premium
- 31 – 60 animals – 2nd Premium
Second year – Limit 40 animals
- 1 – 20 animals – 1st Premium
- 21 – 40 animals – 2nd Premium
Third year – Limit 20 animals
- 1 – 10 animals – 1st Premium
- 11 – 20 animals – 2| Premium
D – The Sheep Annual Premium Scheme (SAPS)
SAPS payments are paid according to the quote amounts, which were last reviewed in 1993, based on 1992 submissions. This becomes the minimum flock figure, though farmers can apply for extra quota (there is a national reserve) or they may purchase from another farm.
The quote system is a divisive instrument and is being used by some individuals as a way to make profit without the need to rear animals, and should be withdrawn, allowing farmers to decide their own stock size.
It is recommended that the existing system continue for the period of transition, but be amended immediately whereby quota holders either actively rear animals or surrender the quota they hold.
The policy for removal of SAPS should be as follows:
Introductory year – payment to be reduced by one third of existing amounts, but up to existing quota figures, providing that the farmer is actively rearing the said number of animals.
Second year – payments to be made on two thirds of the existing quota figures, providing that the farmer is actively rearing the said number of animals.
Third year – payments to be made on one third of the existing quota figures, providing the farmer is actively rearing the said number of animals.
E – The Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances (HLCA)
This premium is paid to farmers operating in Low Forage Areas (LFA’s) and can be claimed in addition to SAPS. There is reason to believe, especially when one considers the increasing encroachment on green land for building purposes, that this scheme should be retained.
In addition it is worth considering encouraging growth in the use of such land not only for sheep but also for cattle, and as such enlarging the current scheme.
It is proposed that, as current, a claimant must have submitted a valid IACS for the year, and be the occupier of at least three (3) hectares of LFA land, for all animals actively reared on the proposed LFA location.
Payments should be made at a level to allow supplementation of the poor forage afforded by such locations.
F – The Extensification Premium – should be withdrawn on the introduction of the new policy.
G – The Pesticide Problem – the present system gives little support for conversion from the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers to organic farming and no support for organic farming itself. This means that organic food is produced at increased prices, thus limiting the availability to a wide range of consumers, favouring those more affluent members of society. The real aim should be to make non-chemical farming the “norm”.
The Liberal Party therefore proposes:
- a tax be levied on all pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers;
- such tax to be set at 10% in the first year, increasing to 20% in the third year and 40% in the sixth year, etc;
- the increases to be effected in the event of a perceived lack of a significant reduction in the use of these harmful substances in our environment;
- revenues so gained to be used to assist in supporting moves to increased conversion to organic farming (not to established organic farming). Such amounts would reduce as the dependence on these substances falls in line with growth of organic methods.
Genetically modified organisms, crops and food
Liberals recognise that life must not be treated as a commodity that can be owned, in whole or in part, by anyone. Species should be respected for their intrinsic natures and valued for their unique qualities, on which the whole intricate network of life depends. We also recognise the potential dangers of genetic engineering to health and biodiversity, and the ethical problems it poses for our responsibilities to life.
Liberals deplore the fact that this government has secretly – without any debate in Parliament and without public consultation – given the go-ahead for unacceptable field tests of genetically engineered crops and food labelling practices.
It is already recognised that these practices could have a devastating effect which is unquantifiable and unimaginable – on environmental, on food safety, on health and on ethical grounds. Moreover, because of the concentration of market power in the hands of agrochemical giants, its impact on third world economies would exacerbate the already horrific state of world poverty.
Liberals call for:
- the immediate cancellation of the all genetically modified crop sites, with the speediest action given to those adjoining organic food producers
- this Government to be instrumental in the cancellation of the new gene technology patents, and there should be no patents on organisms and their constituent parts.
- this Government to ensure that the recent EU ruling that foods containing GM material should only be identified as such at the point of sale, is overturned. It is a ‘betrayal’ of consumers.
- this Government to rule instead that ingredients have to be traced from grower to shipper, and then on to food processor and to point of sale as this has already been proved to be relatively simple and inexpensive and there are many non-GM growers ready to export guaranteed GM-free crops;
- Assembly calls for a moratorium on commercial releases of genetically engineering products and a comprehensive public enquiry into the legitimate and safe uses of genetic engineering.
Liberals note with considerable alarm the decline of Britain’s fishing industry and the general reduction of fish stocks within our waters.
Liberals call for:
- the creation of a separate Ministry for Fisheries;
- the scrapping of the catch quota system;
- the introduction of fishing zones;
- greater involvement of the National Federation of Fishing Organisations (NFFO) in the formulation of fishing policy;
- more research into fish stocks around our shores;
- an increase in the minimum mesh size of nets;
- the exclusion of fishing boats over 10 metres in length from netting within the 6 mile limit;
- more stringent control over the issuing of dredging licences, coupled with more liaison within the NFFO;
- a short term reduction in shellfish fishing and an increase in size limits;
- a drastic reduction in sea pollution and a complete ban on all dumping of waste at sea;
- research into farming of the sea bed;
- the encouragement of greater diversity in consumption and more vigorous marketing of fish and fish by-products.
Revised November 2001