We need a grown-up debate about British agriculture.

May 16, 2024By Pete North


We need a grown-up debate about British agriculture.

To put it bluntly, British farmers are completely fucked. In a global marketplace it's already difficult to compete since Britain will struggle to get anything like the same economies of scale. It's never going to be able to compete on price, and we're always going to need imports. 

Protectionism isn't going to do the consumer any favours, and it won't help British farmers, especially. To shield British farmers from global competition, tariffs would be so high that we would just end up with food shortages. 

The only thing British farmers can compete on is welfare standards and quality, to appeal to middle and upper income consumers. We can gear British farming in that direction, and there will always been a market for high quality foods. 

Still, though, it's difficult to see a future in farming, because animal feed, fertiliser and pesticide manufacture are energy intensive operations - as is grain drying and storage. Both Labour and the Tories are committed to long terms high energy prices. 

Then there's environmentalism and climate red tape. Everything a British farmer does is steeped in regulations. Some of it highly necessary, but much of it is the imposition of middle-class midwittery that champions organic and regenerative farming, and habitat preservation. Paying farmers to do anything but produce food. As @clim8resistance
says, the decision to adopt so-called "regenerative farming" methods is a decision for individual farms to make. If the ideas and economics work for farmers, they can make that decision. Governments make terrible farmers, and should only legislate to the minimal extent necessary.

It's true that the rural aesthetic is part of the national character, and we do want well maintained countryside, and farmers have a role to play in flood prevention, and we want them to be compensated for that, but farmers are no Net Zero implementation operatives. They're going to be spending most of their time filling out bullshit applications for sustainability payments and carbon offset schemes. As to land use and planning permission, fuhgeddaboudit. Everything is stacked against them. Policy is too heavily influenced by the green blob, made up of zealot NGOs who actually hate farmers and farming. The only sensible thing for farmers to do is to cease farming.

I personally think abolishing the EU veterinary system would go a long way toward revitalising our meat industry, but that's not going to happen because regulatory policy is dominated by remainer wonks who prioritise "frictionless trade" over all other concerns, and the Windsor Framework pretty much guarantees any reform initiative will be stillborn. As such, there is no Brexit dividend for farming. 

Though I'm horrified that so much land has been given over to solar farms, I actually don't blame farmers for grubbing the cash while they can because producing food is a mug's game, especially when the supermarkets are gouging them. Moreover, deregulation only gets you so far. Supermarkets are pushing their own quasi-regulation under the guise of Corporate Social Responsibility, demanding farmers take measures to cut carbon in order to sell to them, allowing supermarkets to claim the efforts of farmers as part of their tradable carbon offset allowances. Farmers don't see a penny.

Though corporates are now doing a reverse ferret on CSR, and further green measures in the Red Tractor scheme have been abandoned, that won't stop devolved governments meddling in things they know nothing about. As central government goes cool on Net Zero, the oafish devolved governments are doubling down. Farmers can't catch a break. The only people who have it worse are EU farmers, who now have to contend with a war on pesticides, fertilisers and land decommissioning under CAP reform. Though popular groupthink has it that we need to phase out fertilisers and pesticides, the bottom line is that farmers can have no profit margin without them. 

The only way British farming has a future is by becoming the agriculture R&D lab of the world, creating new patents and pioneering SMR based nuclear desalination for irrigation, which can also serve as CHP for greenhouses. But again that means prioritising cheap, secure, abundant energy - which won't happen. The establishment parties are too wrapped up in the bogus notion of green jobs, so will keep flinging barrels of cash at the wind industry and other useless eco-boondoggles. Consequently, there are fewer and fewer ways for farms to stay afloat. They can't all diversify and run farm shops. 

Unless we have a grown-up debate about agriculture, I don't think the sector has a future at all. But we're not going to get a grown-up debate. 

Not least because farmers have such poor industry representation through the NFU - which is in bed with the green blob. Meanwhile, our politicians are too stupid to grasp the complexity and urgency of the situation, and there is zero hope of informed debate in the media, especially when their go-to talking head is the deeply moronic Brexit-obsessed Liz Webster. It seems the only way to make a profit from farming now is to be an ex-BBC motoring correspondent with a TV deal and massive cash reserves. 

Clarkson may be new to farming, but he might be the last man standing.

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