There are few, if any, subjects more interesting and pertinent to farmers than common agricultural policy (CAP) subsidies and equally few more boring and inexplicable to the layman.
For many farmers, especially in a difficult year like this when prices have fallen for most products, a farmer’s annual support payment from European Union funds can be the difference between profit and loss.
Or as the farmers’ unions and farming organisations of all types have been pointing out with increasing anguish for months the EU payment can be the difference between business survival and having to quit. Even late payment of the subsidy can cause big problems for a farmer’s cash flow and for those with overdrafts increasing dependence on their bank or extended credit by seed, feed and fertiliser firms and auction marts.
Subsidies mean bureaucracy and delayed payments come with the increasing complexity of qualification for payment as Scotland’s farmers more than those in England are finding this autumn.
As listening to any radio phone-in involving farm subsidies will confirm the average layman takes a less sympathetic attitude to farmers claiming that they are in financial trouble. Farmers might argue that support payments averaging about £30,000 a farm in Britain have a trickle down effect for the whole rural economy.
But the layman is entitled to think £30,000 is quite a lot especially at a time when millions of the lowest income families face tax credit cuts and when many British farms because of their large size get payments of vastly more than that.
This is not to argue support payments are wrong. That argument is endless. It’s to say support payments are a matter of perception and the layman doesn’t think of them in terms of the European Union helping a rural infrastructure, but in black and white terms of a £30,000 handout to one family when the layman might be trying to pay the bills with a much lower annual income than that.
And without harping too long on another endless debate, farming as usual does itself no favours with self-publicity particularly at this time of year.
On the one hand we’ve had months of claims that the milk price is ruinous, grain prices on the floor, ditto pigs, not much better lambs and beef and squabbling within the industry about who is responsible for the almost certain late dispatch of CAP payments this year.
Yet there’s the headline teaser on the front page of the Scottish Farmer last week was for a Blackface ram making £160,000 followed by endless pages inside on Angus bulls to 20,000 guineas, Simmentals to 18,000, Charolais to 50,000 guineas (a guinea, as old fashioned a term as the prices and publicity, is £1.05), another Blackface of some sort to £50,000 and so on and on and on. As Jim Callaghan when prime minister never actually said ‘Crisis? What crisis?’
If joke auctions and prices aren’t providing enough laughs for thinking farmers a serious attempt is being made to raise money for Scotland’s rural charity the RSABI with ‘Farming Is A Funny Business’, more than 300 anecdotes and jokes compiled by Andrew Arbuckle.
The book is available from the RSABI, Ingliston, and will be £12 spent in a good cause.