Memorandum submitted by the Reverend John Oliver (SFS 07)


Response from Reverend John Oliver, Chaplain and Trustee of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and member of RABI's Welfare and Grants Committee


I warmly welcome the Inquiry to be undertaken by the EFRA Select Committee into the challenges faced by the UK in securing food supplies up to 2050, and I am glad that this Inquiry arises at least in part out of last year's announcement by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation that world food production will need to rise by 50% by 2030, and to double by 2050. I believe strongly that UK farming, including smaller family farms, must be enabled to play a leading part in this necessary increase in food production, bearing in mind the desirability of achieving a high degree of food security in the UK, and believing that this can be done without compromising good standards of environmental stewardship and of animal welfare.


I am mindful of some thinking within Defra which envisages a reduction in food output from UK farms as a consequence of the phasing out of the Single Farm Payment (SFP), and I want to emphasize the vital importance for the future of UK (and European) farming of continuing some degree of Pillar 1 financial support (whatever precise form this may take) in the light of likely world market food prices. Estimates of the prospects for UK farming in 2009 (for example in Farmers' Guardian on 2.1.09) underline the continuing dependence of most UK farming sectors on the SFP to bridge the production cost gap, and there is no reason to suppose that this will not continue to be the case in future. I hope that the EFRA Select Committee will give close attention to the necessity to continue to provide some form of substantial financial support for UK farming, recognizing that such support will have to continue to be linked to cross-compliance conditions as at present; indeed, such conditions will be of particular importance as production is increased, if there is not to be a return to some of the damaging environmental consequences of the early years of the CAP.


I also hope that the EFRA Select Committee will at least consider the desirability, in order to maintain stable and rising levels of food production, in recommending the re-introduction of some form of intervention price for primary products, to counteract increasingly unstable and volatile world market prices, and to guard against the unpredictable effects of climate change. My work for RABI, which involves scrutinising the accounts of working farmers who need to apply for help from RABI, has made me realise how desperately narrow are the financial margins of many smaller farmers, and how critical any change in their cash flow is, through for example livestock movement restrictions or any abnormal disturbance in market conditions.


In response to some of the specific questions on page 2 of the Inquiry announcement document, I am absolutely certain that it is vital to maintain a good skills base for UK farming, and I hope that the Select Committee will recognize the contribution of family farms in nurturing the next generation of dedicated and enthusiastic young farmers. The science base of UK agriculture has been neglected in recent years, and government investment must increase in this area.


Local food networks have grown in importance in recent years, and should be actively encouraged.


It is sad that support for UK farming from Defra has been less enthusiastic and whole-hearted than it should have been, and there is no doubt that many UK farmers look with some degree of envy to other European governments who support their farming industries and communities more generously and consistently, as well as valuing more highly the specific contributions made by smaller farms to the quality and variety of rural life. It would be excellent if the UK government were to offer similar levels of help and encouragement, so that UK farmers can compete on equal terms with their EU colleagues.


January 2009