Working parties and their wishy-washy findings won't solve this problem
The general rule in politics seems to be if you want to avoid answering a difficult question you set up a working group.
In the farming sector we have seen it happen twice under this Government. When it was asked what it intended to do about the mountain of red tape that was strangling farmers, Richard Macdonald was brought to produce a report and some recommendations. Few of which, of course, have been taken up.
Then ministers were asked what they intended to do about getting more young farmers into the industry, so they hauled in David Fursdon, who used to be president of the Country Land and Business Association, got him to bring together a working group and asked him to report back.
Which he has now done in the shape of a report which is strong on vague suggestions but woefully short on firm proposals, strategies and policies. And which fails to acknowledge one fundamental point: that while so many established farmers are swimming desperately against the financial tide, agriculture is not an attractive proposition for any would-be young farmer.
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When I was a young farmer the industry always had its attractions to anyone looking in from the outside. Yes, the hours were long. Yes, one was always going to be challenged by the weather. Yes, there were going to be bad years as well as good. But in return for solid hard work there were reasonable returns on offer. The harder one worked the more one would prosper. The market always paid a fair price for what one produced.
Now? Well now supermarkets are running food policy in this country and we have a Government which is too weak and too fond of political donations to stand up to them, shake them by the scruff of the neck and tell them to pay decent prices. We have a food market where retailers will source as cheaply as they can and from wherever they can – and if British producers can't supply at prices offered by other countries' farmers with all their cost advantages then they are simply told their goods are not wanted.
So we get to the situation this week where the NFU starts bleating about Britain only being 62 per cent self-sufficient in food. What has taken it so long to wake up? There are those of us who have been warning of this dreadful state of affairs for years but have been brushed aside while the NFU has continued to invite the supermarket bosses who regularly stab its members in the back to speak at its conferences and to treat them like the Prodigal Son.
What young person in their right mind would want to walk into a minefield like that and try to make a living when they could get a well-paid job with every weekend off?
And if the thought of working 24/7 for peanuts with the bank manager on their backs day in day out doesn't deter potential new entrants then there's another hurdle: authorities like Tory-run Somerset County Council which have progressively – and with Government blessing – sold off the county farms, traditionally the starter units which have provided a way into the industry for new entrants.
There. It took David Fursdon and his mates months to come up with a report which said, in essence, nothing. I've managed to identify the reasons why there aren't more young farmers in a few short paragraphs. The solutions are equally straightforward: force supermarkets to pay for food on an independently-calculated cost of production-plus basis; offer new entrants the start-up grants and low-cost loans they get in other countries; and impose a total ban on sales of any more county farms.
It really isn't that difficult to understand, Prime Minister.