FARMING MATTERS: A question of subsidies and the EU referendum

A farmer holding a handful of wheat at harvest time
A farmer holding a handful of wheat at harvest time

It’s difficult in a short space like this to write about important subjects such as subsidies. But after several non-farming people have recently suggested to me that farmers will vote to remain in the EU at the forthcoming referendum in order to retain their subsidies, I’d like to briefly address this issue.

Farming subsidies existed long before this country joined the Common Market, and they will continue via our own government as they did before, should we vote to leave the EU.

But many farming subsidies are not really subsidies for the farmer, they are for anyone who buys food, because they keep the price of food way below what it actually costs to produce.

People have got used to cheap food that takes little account of the hours, days, weeks, months and sometimes years, that it takes to produce.

A slice of bread is created from wheat that has taken the farmer pretty much a year to grow with ploughing, tilling, planting, spraying and harvesting. A joint of beef can take a lot longer and includes the cost of housing, supplementary feeding and routine health checks which involve expensive visits from the vet.

When the first family Expenditure Survey was conducted more than 50 years ago the average household’s weekly expenditure on food and drink was 33% and was their biggest weekly outgoing. A recent report on national statistics from DEFRA reported that, averaged over all households, 11.4% of income was spent on food in 2013.

Many industries are subsidised in order to support the needs of the public and there are good arguments for and against the implementation of this policy in all of them.. My response to the referendum question is that farming subsidies will remain whether we as a country chose to leave or stay.

(It is worth clicking on the link to watch the video with this story, as it shows a year in the life of a field growing wheat.)