An uncertain future for farming

Our village is so rural that it has no street lights. Stand and look from the upstairs window of my mother’s house and for miles around the surrounding landscape is entirely agricultural, yet farming hardly features in the conversation. To talk about the grain yields from the harvest, or the number of silage bales per acre, or the price per litre of milk, or ratio of lambs to ewes, would invite a mystified response.

The village has an abundance of beautiful farmhouses, places of picture postcard quality, except they have been unconnected with farms for forty or fifty years or more.

As small farms became unviable in the post-war years, the fields were bought by farmers wishing to increase their landholding and the houses, sometimes with a few acres of garden or paddock, were bought by middle class business or professional people.

There is no shortage of young families in our community, the village primary school that had forty pupils in the early-1970s now has one hundred and eighty children on its rollbook, but few of them will ever go on to milk cows, herd sheep, or drive a tractor.

In the United Kingdom, agriculture accounts for just half of one per cent of GDP, and is not part of the consciousness of the overwhelming majority of people, even of those living in rural communities like our own. It seems that people are more likely to know about farming from watching BBC’s Countryfile programme on a Sunday evening than they are from the activities in the field over the hedge opposite their house.

The disconnection has not been of great significance, but may become so.

The government intends that the payments that were received by farmers through the European Union Basic Payment scheme will cease next year and will be replaced by Environmental Land Management payments, which will be phased out over a seven year period. Whilst the European Union Common Agricultural Policy had been corrupted, it had started out in 1957 with noble aspirations of food security, community sustainability and family livelihoods, the replacement scheme has no such motivation.

With the agricultural sector accounting for only 0.5% of the economy, there will be few voices raised to argue for such massive state aid. Unprofitable farms are going to disappear and food prices are going to rise.

The business taking place on the other side of the hedgerow is going to face fundamental change this decade, but one might wonder if those passing down the road will actually notice.

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