The UK BEEF INDUSTRY- in 1998 almost 20 Years Ago
13th August 2017
……and the Radical’s Contribution to the Parliamentary Agriculture Select Committee
(A comparison with Food and Farming today
and food for thought for a future Labour Government)
First Thought – Have you been Going To Work On a Foreign Egg ?
The Radical was a specialist Beef producer on a 253acre severely less favoured upland grass farm with 74 units of Suckler Cow quota and 520 units of Sheep quota earned as a new entrant.
Though he started Farming in 1960.
As a New Entrant currently there are only three ways to get into farming.
Matrimony Patrimony & Parsimony- non applied here.
There are two main hurdles that affect viability
1. High Land Prices
2. The attitude of and high Bank interest rates.
(TODAY Suicides among farmers currently stand at 59 per year, more than one a week.
Whereas 20 years ago farming was a multi-generational business, the average age of UK farmers is currently 59.
Not surprisingly, the majority of farmers’ children do not want to take over the family farm when their parents retire.)
Any early retirement scheme would have to include
an opportunity for young people to enter farming and that involves :-
1. An Agricultural Bank that was Government backed
2. A Government buy up scheme. County Council farm Sales should cease
Farms like the Radical’s will never be sustainable without financial support.
A bovine will not reproduce or convert grass into meat fast enough
with the present pace of the rising cost of living.
A further handicap is that a dairy farm could produce beef without quota
but a Beef producer is not allowed to produce milk.
This farm had a low cost energy supply of grass, both grazed and conserved.
This had resulted in a greater dependency on grass in the UK than
in other EEC (European Economic Community)countries
This farming system did not encompass the whole lifetime of a beef calf on the same farm
Traditional rearing farms are partial systems involving trade in cattle so production systems can be assessed.
Forty per cent of Beef produced from calves in the UK is derived from Suckler herds which tend to produce cattle at lighter weights more rapidly than dairy beef.
Concentrates are lower and so are gross margins.
Suckler herds in the hills are numerically important.
A million cows with 56 percent in Scotland.
This was an environmentally friendly farm, and they should continue to be supported.
Responding to a letter I wrote to Jack Cunningham,Minister for Agriculture in 1998 about sustainability, he said that “his Government will seek a fundamental reform of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) (now the Single Market)to provide more effective support and redirect funds to environmentally friendly farming and less direct production related subsidies”.
It was a Hollow Mockery !
If lowland farms can produce all the food needed, then there is no need for for upland farms to be in production, but if the lowland farms need support too, then there is something radically wrong with UK agricultural policy
Traditionally stock are reared on the hills and finished in the lowlands.
If lowland farms are to be stock rearing too, they will not be sustainable without support.
Which leads you back to square one ,that stock will not convert grass fast enough.
To stand still upland farms have had to expand production (and are bursting at the seams),
or go under.
I suggested a study into the cost of one livestock unit , it’s reasonable potential and returns should form the basis for a viable unit below which farms should cease to be supported by production,amalgamation encouraged and environmentally friendly systems reintroduced.
Encouraging part time farmers is not safe,for the stock or farmer.
Farmers live on farms so that they can be near stock who need 24 hour cover.
Bring back Ministry Livestock Advisory freely available ,
but more important is a British Agricultural Policy for Britain.
Not an EEC one !
Stop the cut backs on Agricultural Economists
5th Jan. 1998.
Further Memorandum to the Agricultural Select Committee 13th Jan. 1998
Impact of the BSE Crisis (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy or Mad Cow Disease)
There has been a disastrous fall in prices of store cattle of between £100 and £150 per animal and at the same time finished lambs are £15 less this year.
Based on 60 calves and 450 lambs sold this equals £15k lost income and Mr Cunningham has offered £37 plus £10 for LFA’s (Less Favoured Areas).
This about £3200 compensation for those sold.Its not enough.
I farmed on my own with casual help.
I produced 20 tons of Beef and 20 tons lamb annually.(40,000kgs)and received 22pence per lb subsidy.
Over half went to pay my bank. ( 16% interest since the Bank collapse.)
That means the first £16 of profit in every £100 goes to the Bank —–
Farming is very capital intensive.
I first made a net profit after five years from start up at this farm.
In that time I weathered a depression in property values, interest rates of 16%, the mismanaged introduction of Quotas and now the BSE crisis.
It has like many others ruined my marriage.
I have restructured my herd retaining heifers, though heifer calves do not receive support, and that was in itself absurd.
Variations in sex of calvings affect profit by £85 per calf.
BSE and reduced subsidy have reduced profit by over £10k to an expected loss in 1997-8.
I worked seven days per week ,350 days per year. I had to expand to stand still and I was advised by my Dr to slow down.
The next years profit, even if the export ban was lifted would be a lottery.
I was not sure the market would recover.
The Capital value of my farm had fallen, and I was happy to write about this in confidence to the Committee if it so wished.
Compensation for BSE from EEc and HLCA (HLCA. Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance) since 1996 ended this year abruptly, until Mr Cunningham was reminded .
Without gloating on the past, BSE should have been handled like foot and mouth disease.
This was mainly a disease of the dairy industry.
If you the Government, dont want our food, we’ll go away, but in doing so you had better start printing ration books again because it is a fallacy to believe that you can import cheap food in any other than the short term.
( In fact Britain did import its food and has an unsustainable balance of payments deficit. Which tax payers are paying for and with austerity as the result)
Brexit thinking started 20 years ago through Tory Government incompetence and includes a Labour Government that ought to have known better.
We need to produce far more food at home to become self sufficient.
Anything else is sheer madness.
( SO YOU DO EAT FOREIGN EGGS ? – BETTER BUY BRITISH NEXT TIME )
Restructuring of the Beef Industry
After WW2 many farms were bought cheaply in comparison to todays prices.
The proportion of rented farms went down and the amount of owner occupier land went up.
These farms have done relatively well.
Since then, New Entrants and Tenant farmers have been saddled with high rents/overdrafts.
The drying up of the Export market left the future of beef un-certain but cutting down on herds was not the right answer.
THE SOLUTION THEN WAS TO GET THE DAIRY BEEF OUT OF THE FRESH BEEF MARKET
( and still is because it is inferior beef )
Any early retirement scheme must give an opportunity to young people
Government is responsible to prevent land use as a tax avoidance
. Huge profits have been made on land.
Speculation on land is said to be the lubricant of local Government. eg Mr Poulson.
This is a job for the lawyers.
Future Concerns- Market Forces
For a Market to exist there must be buyers as well as sellers.
I went to Kilmarnock Market before it closed to find one buyer !
Depending on the market is unfair to farmers because
we have to take decisions so far in advance.
I could not lay off a beef herd as Ford does it’s workers.
Increase Suckler beef herds which are environmentally friendly, to meet the fresh beef market.
Make the word “Quality” mean something.
Beef is not traceable if you dont tell the consumer where it has come from
and how it has been produced.
I propose that in future only viable upland farms receive support based on production.
Farms below say 200 acres should have their support decoupled from production.
Finally there is one other worthy comment.
We have a Minister of Agriculture because of the problems of food production.
He is there to ensure there is a sufficient supply of food for the nation.
Liberalisation of agricultural trade means throwing British farmers to the mercy of World Markets.
Cheap food in the short term, decimation and bankruptcies in the medium term
and with World population increasing, natural and man made disasters more common,
we may see more food shortages.
What Government can afford that on its conscience ?
( With Brexit food shortages are a real possibility
and we need to appoint a Minister for Food to protect Producer and Consumer )
Of the Members of Parliament present at the Committee in 1998 – Only the Chair has farming experience- from a distance.
(As a contributor to the Select Committee on the Beef Industry I feel I might as well have stayed home !
Jim Cunningham Labour Agriculture Minister, on the day was merely a Tory stooge !)
“Let the Market decide and Let the producers go to the wall !”
—That is what happened 3000 farmers left the industry each year for the next 8 years.
The Radical was one of them. No food is produced on his farm now, only timber.
What a Waste !
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