Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 73-79)




  73. Lady and gentlemen, welcome. Let us just check who is who. We have got Mr Ansell, you are the Director of the Institute of Agricultural Management, and Mr Course, a Member of the Council. Then Professor Alliston, you are the Dean of the School of Agriculture, the Agricultural College, and Ms Kate Russell is from the School of Rural Economy and Land Management. We understand the reasons why the Chairman is unable to be with us. You know what we are trying to do; we are looking at the scenarios for agriculture in a world in which subsidies are reduced, we have to come up with various scenarios as to what level, and we are trying to establish some of the parameters of the processes for decision-making and the actual options available for people. What we want to end up with is ideas, which we can then say to individual farmers, "How do I respond to this?" So that we are trying to talk to people who might be thinking a bit laterally rather than to all the usual known suspects, who have given their evidence to Sir Don Curry's report and I really do not intend that we should ask them to reproduce it for ours. Could I ask you, just quickly, without hesitation, deviation or repetition, what is your reaction to the Curry (no relation) report?

  (Mr Ansell) I think, probably to concur with the general thrust of it, would be my position, on my reading of it so far.

  74. So you have found a general thrust?
  (Mr Ansell) There was a redirection, I thought, in the direction that probably we would broadly support.

  75. Did you find a sort of new big idea in it?
  (Professor Alliston) There were specifics of some new ideas, as far as I was concerned, anyway, in certain elements of it; the overall concepts, I think, have been widely talked about.

  76. Which were the bits you found and you said, "My God, I wish I'd thought of that"?
  (Professor Alliston) There were bits on education that I could associate with, that we have heard about, but I thought they were articulated quite well, so particularly the centres of excellence, for instance. And the problem I guess I would have with that is that if you specify too carefully the centres of excellence then probably you have people travelling long distances, where the colleges at the moment probably have a local base, some of them. And, therefore, I think, while you could identify centres of excellence, you would still want the general agricultural provision in the colleges.

David Burnside

  77. Can I ask, Mr Chairman, a specific question. On a number of other reports that have investigated sectors within industry, manufacturing or service, I have found one of the greatest weaknesses in the report was not the general thrust but the generalities in the report, and it did not quantify the state of the farming industry in the next five or ten years in the way that other Government reports have quantified, for instance, not very successfully, sections of manufacturing industry. The impact was not quantified. We did not know the impact on jobs of those directly or indirectly related to farming under the proposals in the report, which I think is a great weakness.
  (Professor Alliston) Yes, I sense what you are saying there.

Phil Sawford

  78. You mentioned, Chairman, sort of the big idea; it seems, from an initial view, that reconnection seems to be the big idea, reconnecting farmers with markets, consumers with food and people with the countryside. And do you think that there has been a dysfunction, to that extent, that farming has drifted away from food, consumers and everything else?
  (Mr Course) I think one of the big issues, one of the big problems, has been the industry, to some extent, has been crystallised through the previous support mechanisms, and it has not been able to react to market forces, it has not been able to reallocate resources; and I think one of the main thrusts of the Curry report is to start that process again, or release the industry to readjust. And I understand fully why some of the lobby groups and the pressure groups are anti this, because the natural conclusion, in terms of what it will mean, is radical readjustment of the industry and, I suspect, a significant reduction in the number of farmers and farm businesses within the industry, which, to some extent, the previous support mechanisms have prevented, they have crystallised into the old, what we had 20 or 30 years ago, they have not allowed the industry to readjust to market mechanisms. And I think that is one of the most significant things. I think there is a need to understand the quantification, but I suspect it is quite dramatic, and, I think, to some extent, the current statistics are already widely misunderstood. If you look at the number of quoted farmers and farm businesses within the industry, and whether you take the figure of 100,000 businesses or 60,000 businesses, depending what threshold you cut people off at, whether you say less than 25 hectares is not a farmer, it is a hobbyist, or whether you say 100 hectares is a proper farmer, the reality is that there are probably somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 serious farm business decision-makers in the agriculture industry at the present time, and a lot of the lobby groups are very wary about facing up to that reality. And I think that the natural conclusion of Curry, if you try to improve efficiency within the supply chain, which is one of the specific things that I think is good and should be focused on, is that, potentially, you will halve the number of serious decision-makers in the industry. And I think Government, looking at forcing through this pace of change, needs to recognise what the implication will be on the number of decision-makers, on the number of farm businesses and, no less significantly, on the number of employees, it is agricultural employees, probably, who will bear a not insignificant brunt of a reduction in support. And those are just a few comments.

Mr Martlew

  79. Can you comment briefly, looking at the report yesterday and looking at some of the press coverage, there seems to be a contradiction, and perhaps you can explain it. What they are saying is, because farming is subsidised greatly, the consumer is paying more for their food; can you explain how that can be, if that is the case in the report, I think it is?
  (Mr Ansell) It is mainly the effect on the internal level of prices in Europe, as a result of protecting the Community from cheaper produce from elsewhere in the world; that is the major reason why food prices tend to be higher than they would be in the absence of it.

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