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Look beyond the conventional balance sheet

farm responds to DEFRA's new Rural Strategy

With the launch of its 2004 Rural Strategy, DEFRA has once again missed an opportunity to show that it understands the full contribution of farming to sustainable development.

Central to the Strategy is the social, environmental and economic diversity and well-being that has become so important to public and politicians alike. Yet there is little concern for the continuing loss of farms and farmers, and little understanding of the wider values that farming provides.

farm believes that it is only through a diversity of farms, farm types, and farm sizes, only through retaining and refreshing farmer numbers, that a healthy and diverse countryside can be delivered. Over the last 50 years, the UK has lost an average of 12 farms a day; as smaller farms suffer most, average farm size continues to rise; and with the dominance of supermarkets, production is becoming more intensive and monocultural – yet DEFRA demonstrates no firm commitment to stopping these trends.

As Robert Alderson, farm's assistant coordinator, says:

“When will DEFRA realise that keeping a high number and diversity of farms in business is vital to producing the ‘vibrant, dynamic and competitive countryside’ that it envisages? They have to protect smaller producers and they have to stop the fall in farmer numbers. The public doesn’t want to see a homogenous countryside.

“But we’re not just trying to moan at DEFRA and Mrs Beckett, we’re also trying to positively encourage them to think about how they value farming. Agriculture is worth so much more than its 0.8% contribution to national GDP. Here at farm, when we talk about agriculture we understand a whole variety of values.

“As well as providing its own incomes and livelihoods, British agriculture underpins a £20 billion food processing and manufacturing industry, provides for a large slice of retailer profits, and inspires £11 billion that is spent annually by countryside tourists.

“Farmers have an enormous influence over the health and appearance of our countryside – over three quarters of our natural environment is farmland. Smaller farms in particular provide very diverse habitats for wildlife. In the meantime, farming provides a traditionally stable base for families, and in many rural areas farmers remain lynchpins of their communities.

“In terms of sustainable development – in synthesising a variety of economic, social and environmental needs and desires of our society – this makes agriculture a unique industry. Its farmers are far more than just manufacturers, its products are far more than just commodities. DEFRA and Mrs Beckett need to look beyond the conventional balance sheet and start to value farming for all that it gives to society.”