Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Changing Face of Farming

I'm spending most of this weekend in Devon, hence the lack of posts yesterday. The thing that has struck me here is how much I miss this kind of lifestyle.

I was brought up in a very rural area in North Essex and never imagined I would spend much of my working life in London. I come from a long line of farmers and it was expected that I too would become a farmer. Visiting some close family near Barnstaple last night it was good to see my cousin Richard again. We worked out that it had been seven years. He hadn't changed at all, yet he had been told this week that after 27 years of working on the same farm he was being made redundant. The farmer was in tears when he broke the news. He said he just couldn't face carrying on due to all the regulations he had to comply with. So yet another farming family is getting out.

I made a decision at a very young age that I didn't want to go into farming and as Neil Kinnock might have said: "I was the first in a thousand generations of Dales to go to university". My close family entirely supported that decision, even though it must have been painful for them to realise that their eldest son would never do what had been predetermined for him. Most of the rest of my family - also mostly in farming - didn't quite view it that way. They felt I was betraying my parents, although they never actually said so.

My parents own their farm. It's not a large farm and they do not confirm to most 'townies'' view of a stereotypical farmer - they don't have a Range Rover, a mansion or wear tweed . But I had the chance in life that my cousin Richard did not, as his father (my father's brother) did not own land. Whenever I go home to my parents I often think how my life would have been different if I had been born twenty years earlier - because there's no doubt that I would have definitely gone into farming whether I wanted to or not.

It is a crying shame that Britain's farming heritage is disappearing. Small farms are being bought up by the big farming conglomerates. The care that farmers like my father have given to their land is being replaced by a very different culture. Those who know nothing about farming bang on about subsidies and how they've never seen a farmer on a bike. What they don't realise is that most farmers were doing quite well by themselves before the era of subsidies. All people need to do is look at New Zealand, a predominantly agricultural country that is self sufficient in food, pays no subsidies to its farmers and yet it has a thriving farming community.

For my father's generation, farming is a vocation, a way of life. It's not about money. As long as he is earning a basic living he is happy. He hasn't had a new car since he bought a Cortina Super in about 1966. My parents just don't go on holidays. They rarely go out to dinner. But is their quality of life better than most? Are they happy and more content? You bet.

Note: The picture shows me with my father Garry (right) and his brother John, Richard's father (left)


Anonymous said...

Oh, Mr Dale you really are a dark horse aren't you ! I grew up in the countryside, but knew from age 4 when I failed abysmally to feed a lamb from a bottle that I wasn't cut out for it.

As for the politics of farming and the countryside...well suffice to say I don't have time now but will give the benefit of my thoughts later on...

Anonymous said...

You are right. The only way forward is to implement New Zealand style reform. This would need agreement to change the CAP, perhaps on a UK only basis, with consequential changes to tarrif regimes on agricultural products. As John Redwood said to you on 18DS, he thought that a new Tory government should go to Brussels seeking renegotiation on various issues, and this issue should be one of them. Add fisheries too.

Anonymous said...

it is a pity to see that farming is changing in the country, much as in the USA, for albeit some different reasons.

The farm on my mother's side has a Walmart sat on top of it- which has drained the life out of a once thriving community and high street; as for the family farm on my father's side, a distant cousin inherited it and decided that as he could not make a living selling soybeans etc, the he would cultivate America's number one cash crop- marijuana. What a way to honour my pioneer forbears...

Anonymous said...

When is that rural East Hampshire selection coming up again, Iain?

Anonymous said...

Have you never thought of becoming a scarecrow?

I spent from 4 and a half to 16 on a small farm in a village dating back to Saxon times. That's why I love the's the people that spoil it.

Anonymous said...

Iain how I agree with you. I could sit and weep if I thought too much about it. These stupid little twits know absolutely nothing about the culture they are destroying -they think money, land - but its not that- its hard graft, little money and an abiding love and understanding of how nature works and how to nourish the land properly.

They bang on about global warming but it is the very policies that destroy the land in the name of profit that is a contributary factor.

God help my country - because no one else will, there will be nothing left to help.

(North Essex -beautiful countryside)

Iain Dale said...

Anonymous 11.38 - nice try. But I'm in Devon, not East Hampshire, as you might know if you had read the first line!

Anonymous said...

Most of the farms here have gone lots have been built on, but whats left have gone in horse minding ,they appear to be doing very well ,Wirral the horse capital of the North West

Anonymous said...

The small farm is dead, move on, stop the subsidy, hand agriculture back to the free market. Let farmers sell their land to whoever they want, to do with what ever they want.

Anonymous said...

Why do people think big is beautiful ,big is umanagable and expensive , this I think includes farms , we are now seeing the problem Suffolk

Anonymous said...

Small farmers are being squeezed out by big agri-businesses and the supermarkets.

Instead of disappearing down the cul-de-sac of opposing the fox hunting ban more people in farming should have been fighting against this Government's overwhelming bias towards big business against the smaller family owned farms.

I'm afraid that many farmers and their friends in the countryside were taken for a ride by the Countryside Alliance and the big landowners. It's hardly surprising that one of the leaders of the CA was a big London estate agent.

Sadly, many small farms are now going bust every week and I can't see the situation improving.

Anonymous said...

Where abouts in north essex?

Anonymous said...

What hope that we can ever break free of farm subsidies so long as we remain in the EU?

Sabretache said...

Anonymous 12:15:

In the words of the Old Simon & Garfunkel song 'Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest' eh?

Anyone who can talk such garbage about 'the fox hunting cul-de-sac' sic. and being 'taken for a ride by the Countryside Alliance' clearly knows bugger all about the rural culture of this country and those who spend their lives fighting in its defense.

But Iain is spot on. It is that culture that is being systematically destroyed and with it any possibilty of self-sufficiency in food production come the 'peak-oil'/energy crunch or any one of a number of other 'crunches'

As someone else has commented, I too could cry (and often do) when I consider the rancid cocktail of crass, ignorant, stupid, class-war mores and hatreds that is at the root of it. God help this country when it is obliged to start feeding itself again because those with the skills, knowledge and ability to make it happen will have been evicted in favour of countryside theme park managers.

Anonymous said...

Not only about a vocation or way of life, Iain - it's also about belonging - to a place and a community.

To those that haven't read it, I recommend 'News from Somewhere' by Roger Scruton.

dearieme said...

Where I grew up we had not only farming, but also fishimg. I loathe Socialism, be it from the Labour party or from Ted Heath Conservatives.

Anonymous said...

Even the Fens are feeling the pinch, I know a lot of farms where the sons have chosen careers away from farming. A whole way of life is being destroyed. Our village is now a dormitory for Cambridge, Peterboro' etc. The CAP and DEFRA have rendered this country dependant on imports of certain foodstuffs.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Ian, this North Essex woman (family from Tiptree, the Tothams and Tolleshunts, near Colchester) totally agrees with you.

It was our, green heritage, our farming heritage, which sustained us during WW2 - and we destroy that at our peril.

Every nation should have green space and the capacity to feed itself. Yet - primarily in the Conservative voting South East, where we now have too many mouths to feed - Two Jags & co have savagely punished us for our political loyalties by concreting over our farms for high density development and road congestion.

Auntie Flo'

Yak40 said...

I'd take Devon over London any day of the week, especially south Devon.

Colin D. said...

This rather deep report of yours Iain is very touching. The 64000 Q is, what will the Boy David do in his first 100 days of power. Bugger all is my best guess. It is very sad what is being done to the country side.

Take Fakenham for instance. Even a townie can see that this once idyllic rural town has been transformed in a matter of twenty years to What? I don't see any hope for these, once lovely, hard working communities. F'anks again to the political chattering classes.

Anonymous said...

There was a piece on local tv a few days ago about the little house on the prairee (thats what we call it) thats the farmhouse in the middle of the M62 motorway on the top of windy hill on the the border 2 metro areas , single guy working sheep it was very good showed what he was up against

Anonymous said...

Guess who applied for Tiverton & Honiton!!

Anonymous said...

You can take the man out of North Essex, but you can't take North Essex out of the man, eh?

There are a surprising number of North Essex people on this blog - is it just a coincidence, Iain?

Maybe not. Beruit Hostage,Brian Keenan, in his book 'Evil Cradling' examines what common factor crammed a group of, apparently disparate, people from far flung parts of the world together as hostages in a tiny, fetid cell in Beirut.

There was I, says Keenan, a teacher in Northern Ireland, a depressed captive of the troubles, violence and inhumanity, so I left it all behind. Yet where did I go? To Beirut, where every lad on every street corner is a gun toting Rambo.

The Beirut hostages had left troubled lives/ home towns for less stress elsewhere, yet they'd all subconciously sought out an 'elsewhere' haunted by even worse troubles than those of the former lives they'd left behind.

So they'd all carried their troubles and dissatisfaction with them - inside themselves - and just recreated more of the same, only worse.

A bit like Blair really.

Didn't Keenan return to Northern Ireland when he was finally set free?

A lesson for the utopians, compulsive modernisers and reformers here maybe, that the devil you know is you and a new society and value system won't fix that and will maybe only compound it.

It wasn't only the hostages who shared this in common either:

"Just as I was chained in darkness for almost five years, my captors were chained to their guns in a profound darkness that I could see into. Tell me now, who is the prisoner here?" (Keenan, Evil Cradling)

Auntie Flo'

Anonymous said...

A link here to a very insightful and moving article about Islamic fundamentalism by Keenan, published by the BBC

Or just search on Brian Keenan BBC Have Your Say Special

Anonymous said...

Sabretache said...
Anonymous 12:15:
Anyone who can talk such garbage about 'the fox hunting cul-de-sac' sic. and being 'taken for a ride by the Countryside Alliance' clearly knows bugger all about the rural culture of this country and those who spend their lives fighting in its defense....

On the contrary I suspect you're one of those fox-hunting obsessives who led many naive farmers and other people in the countryside down the cul-de-sac of "saving fox hunting" while small farms were going bust, rural post offices were closing, and rural bus services were drying up.

The membership of the two fox hunts near me in rural Gloucestershire consist mainly of wealthy Brummies, Londoners, and other "townies". A small number of locals are involved, largely in shit-shovelling in the kennels paid at the minimum wage.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how many posters are N. Essex - I love it because my grandparents were.
I was born and bred in Hampshire and now live just over the border in Berkshire. The countryside has gone in 20 years from smallish farms to leased out land. One local farmer is very environmentally caring the others- profit is the name of the game and sell out to developers even tho we are at saturation point.

During the war there was a poster displayed showing the rolling acres of England and the title -'Your England -fight for it'
Those who did must wonder why they even bothered now that this lot of lunatics have taken over the asylum!

For what? Envy of something they didn't have or understand -not one of them is really fuelled by a genuine desire to help those who are worse off -its the working class that has been hammered.

The only MP I ever met who cared (haven't met you Iain) was an hereditary peer who helped anyone who came to him and quietly did a lot of charity work without advertising it.

Of course such as he has no place in this governments dictatorship

Anonymous said...

You have exactly the same background as me - so a very poigniant piece of writing.

When I was sixteen I also told my parents I did not see a future in farming. They too were devastated but understood. I went off to University a few years later and like you was the first ever person in my entire family to do so. I too ended up working in London - the irony of it was that I chose a career trading the very commodities I had just a few years earlier been planting in my father's fields.

It took my father another 20 years to come round to my way of thinking and he just retired two years too early and crushed by the never ending torrent of petty minded regulation set up by politicians who only understand urban issues.

He never was an organic farmer but looked after the land the old fashioned way. A way that we now call 'sustainable'. He too did it not for the money but for the love of doing it, never went on holiday, never bought a new car in his life.

He always said I can do wihout the subsidy if they just leave me to get on with it.

I now live in Oxfordshire and it saddens me to see farm land round here literally derelict. No one actually farms the land at all. Just a few sheep to keep the grass short and a contractor with a topper once a year to keep the ragwort down. Its all owned by some investor waiting for the planning permission to come through.

Anonymous said...

If you take the posting and comments, remove "farming" and replace it with "coal mining" it takes you back to the early 80's - the same sentimentality posing as fact, the same Canute-like wish to turn economic tides back and the same inevitable doom for an industry, most of whose products can be bought much cheaper from abroad. We need the farmland for housing, given that fewer and fewer people under 35 can afford to own even small flats.

Paul Burgin said...

Likewise I come from a farming family on my Dad's side. Although the farm was sold around 1957 and my Dad went into banking, but I have seen enough first hand(my paternal grandparents spent the rest of their lives living in the village where they worked) to agree that there are a lot of stereotypes about farmers which are simply untrue.

Anonymous said...

Colin D. said...
This rather deep report of yours Iain is very touching. The 64000 Q is, what will the Boy David do in his first 100 days of power. Bugger all is my best guess...I don't see any hope for these, once lovely, hard working communities. F'anks again

My worries too, Colin D. What will Cameron do anything for rural England and our crushed English communities and values systems, if anything? I'm hearing too much utopianism, endless talk about modernisation, reform, more development.

I so want to believe in and vote for Cameron. Though I'm a life long Liberal, I even joined his party because he was a breath of fresh air and so different to Blair. Yet all of this utopian talk gives me a shuddering sense of deja vu. Like so many in England, I am sick to the back teeth of obsessive reform and development.

Auntie Flo'

Anonymous said...

Oh anonymous dear -you cannot tell me about housing as my own son -although a craftsman cannot afford a mortgage.

I suggest some of you actually attend your history lessons -not the ones about the wicked English but about the times when this country has had to feed itself.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that the Americans will come up with a new Marshall Aid Plan (and we have only just paid of the last one -it only took 60 years!)As far as they are concerned we are completely dispensible despite Tone's Uriah Heep behaviour.

As has been said -N. Zealand can farm profitably, and as for coal mines -hasn't one just opened in Wales?

Oh yes depend upon the outside world to feed us -and what happens when some terrorists decide to blockade us? We haven't got a navy left to defend our shores, our army is everywhere else in the world bar here and EU policies apart, as Tone decided to follow the american star and blow europe -there won't be many to help there either.


we have strict standards of animal welfare and food production in this country -I very much doubt that they are observed by the countries importing food to us.

Finally -don't talk rot about nostalgia and sentimentality if you had lived in the rural areas in the 40s and 50s you would not be nostalgic for a past way of life. I enjoy modern living as much as anyone -but a balance has to be kept. That remark was very patronising and insulting.

This system is failing

we are dependent upon imports

concrete communities descend into hopelessness

only this government wants this present way of life to continue

Anonymous said...

"If you take the posting and comments, remove "farming" and replace it with "coal mining" it takes you back to the early 80's - the same sentimentality posing as fact, the same Canute-like wish to turn economic tides back and the same inevitable doom for an industry"

I disagree. I remember working on my Dads farm and meeting a young miner during the miners strike who was working cash in hand for a local haulier who bought straw from my Dad. He was desperate for the money and too frightened to go back to work down the pit during the strike for fear that he and his family might be targeted.

As I recall, the mining unions demanded protection from foreign imports, ever rising wages and threatened the country with blackouts if they did not get their own way. No farmer has ever done that and all of those I have known have always hated the meddling EU subsidy system that was designed to stop them competing with French, German and Italian farmers.

Anonymous said...

With confirmation of the H5 N1 outbreak at a Turkey farm in Suffolk, the Political-Media Complex's derision of the farming sector is about to be fully exposed.

During the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, the complete lack of anybody within the new labour government with any real-world organising skills frightened the crap out of me.

Both their initial reaction to the outbreak and its long-term management were criminally negligent. They found out then, that in a real crisis, spinning about "things improving" did not stop the tide from coming in.

Now with a crisis of indecision at the heart of nu-labour and at the highest levels of government we are faced with the risk (and I emphasise the word "risk") of a much worse outbreak that involves human health.

Over the next few weeks we will find out exactly of what metal new UK establishment is made.

To quote Powell again (not the one worried about plod interviews):
"The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils".

Anonymous said...

"During the war there was a poster displayed showing the rolling acres of England and the title -'Your England -fight for it'
Those who did must wonder why they even bothered now that this lot of lunatics have taken over the asylum!"

I cannot understand why those who did bothered at the time.
It never was 'Our England". It was Their England. It was, and still is, the landowners England.
My father says he fought because he didn't want his identity as an Englishman taken away. His only brother was killed and my father's reward is a small bungalow in a Kentish village where the remaining shops are owned by immigrants from the Empire. It isn't what he thought he was fighting for.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful article.

Anonymous said...

Due to our profligate Chancellor, shopping mad consumers, and lax lending from the banks, Britain's retail dependant economy is on the verge of drowing in debt.

Recession's on the way, leading to a collapse in land values and house prices amongst other things.

Perhaps then agricultural land will revert back to producing food rather than being speculative investments for developers and estate agents.

As the pound sinks in value on the FOREX, imported food will become ever more expensive and the supermarkets may turn to our beleagured indigenous producers once again.

Anonymous said...

How much are they paying you in the picture to appear on the blog?

Anonymous said...

Its not the landowners that cause the problems.

As for history - there is always good and bad in every society.

It was the landowner that gave my mother a refuge from the V2s -and there was no obligation

It was the land owner who, when it was discovered that I could read far beyond my years, gave me access to their library.

The bad landowners, on the whole, were the ones who came from no where, made money and By God made sure that everyone knew it.

Its not the landowners that rule this country - nowadays its jumped up twits who are ill-educated and full of envy for anyone who has something they don't.

Again -if they had read history young men would not be dying in Afghanistan.

If they could do mathematics then they would realise that a country with limited space and resources cannot keep accepting more and more people.

... and the more people -the more need for food
... the more need to import - the more environmental damage

.. they were not taught logical thought either it would appear.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you but how can you complain about the disappearance of family farming when you weren't willing to continue the tradition yourself?

Anonymous said...

If you think farmers have had it bad of late, wait until CVC, Blackstone and KKR take over Sainsburys.

Standard post-takeover strategy:

(1) "Headcount reduction" throughout the company (= firing people.)

(2) Demand retrospective discounts from suppliers, who will do the same to their suppliers (= the farmers.)

(3) Double the payment terms expected from suppliers who will do the same to their suppliers (= the farmers.)

And after they've done a sale and leaseback on all the freehold property, they'll submerge the company in debt.

Then, when they then re-float a much weakened Sainsburys, the profits from the deal will go offshore, so no UK tax will be paid.

Still, I'm sure one of these outfits must have a spare seat on the board for Tony Blair...

Anonymous said...

Parliament is really out of touch with farming these days.

Mind you, there are a few MPs who have two different methods of enjoying the spreading on manure!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Mind you, there are a few MPs who have two different methods of enjoying the spreading on manure!

Let's leave Oaten out of this, I'm just about to have me tea for God's sake.

Anonymous said...

The difference between the mniners and the farmers is that the farmers (forwrad thinking ones) are asking to get rid of the endless systems of price support. They want an open, free market. They want to *end* state subsidy.

Anonymous said...

Worzel Gummidge said...
If you think farmers have had it bad of late, wait until CVC, Blackstone and KKR take over Sainsburys.

Standard post-takeover strategy:

(2) Demand retrospective discounts from suppliers, who will do the same to their suppliers (= the farmers.)

(3) Double the payment terms expected from suppliers who will do the same to their suppliers (= the farmers.)

Sainsbury can't demand any more discounts, retrospective or otherwise, from many of the small company suppliers they seek out because they're crippling most of them now. Most will go under if they're forced to discount any more.

Many of the retail giants have already unofficially doubled the payment terms by failing to clear invoices and paying late.

What they will do though is to begin to charge suppliers for the right to supply.

Recruitment companies like mine who supply a number of the giants with temporary staff for peak demand periods, already have to pay the intermediate Master Vendors some supermarket chains use an annual fee for the 'priviledge' of being a supplier. They don't tell you that until you've begun to supply and they've knocked, many of your other clients out of the picture, so you're over a barrel, of course.

Vendor Neutral intermediates have even set up trading agreements, endorsed by the giants, which purport not to be contracts, so that in the event of the Vendor Neutral going bust or refusing to pass on the fee for the suppliers work for the supermarket chain, the supplier has no recourse in law whatsoever, either against the Master Vendor or the retailer.

There is, quite literally, a clause in the agreement which states that you have no right to be paid for work done under the agreement!

Anonymous said...

Be they thik newfangled atomic sort o'mangelwurzel you be a'showin' to they gentlemen in the pictur, our Iain?

Anonymous said...

Welome back to the real world Iain

Anonymous said...

Yet another reason why we should not be in the EU. When you think how our country fought for its independance over the centuaries. To see us just giving in to France and Germany as that is what it is.

We could then sort out our own problems that are totaly different to the rest of the EU

My father would be ashamed of us.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

We spend the first forty years of our lives pursuing what we think we want, but if we are lucky, we get a bit older and understand what we know we want.

Do you put your suit on with a sigh? Do you don your wellies with a chuckle?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6.09 pm

Something tells me that we've both personally been on the receiving end of these "private equity heroes."

I do believe that, once the NuLabour scum have been thrown from office, there will be a reckoning for a few of their fellow travellers.

Anonymous said...

What is it with tories and farmers? If it was any other industry like, oh, I don't know, coal, steel, they'd be moaning about the subsidies. And if a few workers lost their jobs in the industry, well that's just capitalism and the Market. But if it's a farmer. Oh, well that's somehow different. Well, diddums. If there are too many uneconomic farmers then let them go to the wall like the miners and the car industry before them.

Yak40 said...

ordinary woman 5:29pm

very nice, trouble is, you've got too much common sense for today's world, same as me :)

Anonymous said...

That photograph is symbolic too....

Townie comes with handouts for Country Folk

Anonymous said...

Teaching ? Nursing ? Farming ? You really need to write your life story.

Far better than that 'Blunky Bollocks'

I was never cut out for farming or rugby which means I moved away from Wales. The enemies to farming are many and varied.

Who do you blame ? Is it Tesco for screwing the farmers ? Or is it the Government for abdicating their control of the market place, avoiding the control and oversight it requires, and ducking the issues raised by the Competition Commission?

Others would have legislated against their predatory pricing of milk - Nulabour have done nothing - hardly surprising when David Sainsbury is a chum. But then the Sainsbury clan do have fingers in the Tory party pie.
The Wal-Mart point is well made - they claim to create jobs - they don't explain that can only work if they 'nuke' the other small retailers - their business model relies on being a monopoly power.

The Common Agricultural Policy has helped some small farmers, esp. in France. But it isn't sustainable and farmers get addicted to subsidy like crack addicts. They can't give up overnight - but they do need to be weaned off. It also has impacts for sugar producers in the third-world, and we can no longer justify that.

There is a wider debate about the organic vs intensive debate. I don't think we can prioritise quantity at the expense of quality, or plant GM crops - I think we need to be far smarter than that, and cater to the increasing interest in quality food.

I don't agree with the person who said the farmers should sell their land. Labour would love to eliminate an entire class of property owners.
After all, many of them don't vote Labour, so they can't give a toss.

And if they can't nationalise the land, the next best thing is for it to be owned by their chums in the supermarkets & investment banks..

Anonymous said...

I understand your sadness at a way of life disappearing. I suspect that some miners felt the same about their life, albeit radically different. I don't intend that to be a partisan remark, by the way.

Politically speaking, governments of both stripes have spent the last 25 years or so eroding our energy and food security.

Anonymous said...

With col there was a slight problem ith a lack of coal that coul be got out of the ground for a vaugely economic price.

With farming the problems are almost entirely due to the subsidy system and government protection of the near monopoly conditions of the big supermarkets. Remove the market distortions (stop spending billions to screw up the market) and enforce the anti-monoply legistlation that has existed in this country for many decades.

The small side effect of removing subsidies will be to strengthen agriculture in the poorest prt of the Third World. This will, of course cause a reduction in the number of starving children, and so will throw number of people working for food-aid charaties out of work. But they don't vote conservative, so who cares :-)