It is always a bad sign when the man in charge starts talking about the need to draw lines in the sand and Ben Gill, the NFU president, is no exception. In a convincing imitation of the late J. Major, Gill chose the NFU's recent annual conference to proclaim "there is no point whatsoever in farmers looking back at the suffering and problems of recent years and getting obsessed with petty irrelevances" (such as how useless their president has been at his job). "We have to stop whingeing about the past" he told his fast diminishing number of members.
"The farming industry cannot get back to where it was before" (presumably he means before he was elected to office) and "we must use the experience of foot and mouth to our best advantage".
One lesson most farmers learned from that experience, of course, was that Gill's own contribution to the debacle was worse than useless, consisting of little more than prating about the evils of vaccination and endorsing the government's obscene policy of killing 9 million healthy animals. But, as Gill so wisely says, we must now stop whingeing about the past and look for a way forward. What does he have in mind?
One thing you can always be sure of when Gill is holding forth on the problems of British farming is that you will never hear much criticism of the EU's common agricultural policy (although of course, like everyone else except the French, he would like to see it 'reformed'). Naturally he loves the £2 billion a year in subsidies which flow from Brussels (although he never points out to his members that, in order to get that £2 billion back from Brussels, UK taxpayers must send £5 billion to Brussels in the first place, much of which then goes to subsidising our farmers' competitors). So the top priority, he said, was to focus on "how we can lower costs to the farmer", the worst problem being the "astronomic" cost of regulations. What he was too tactful to point out, since his fellow-speakers included Franz Fischler, the Austrian in charge of the common agriculture policy, is that churning out all those regulations is precisely the purpose of Herr Fischler's officials in Brussels, so that they can then be enforced with unique zeal by Fischler's branch office in Whitehall, under the inspiring leadership of his local branch manager Rosa Klebb (aka Mrs Beckett).
When Gill went on to point out that farm incomes in the UK have fallen 30 percent in the last six years while everywhere else in the EU they have risen, he was again too tactful to point out why. This is that the UK government applies for an absolute minimum of the subsidies available from Brussels because, under the rules of Mrs Thatcher's rebate, British taxpayers must shell out a higher contribution to subsidies than anyone else, while other EU governments grab all they can get. Our farmers are thus expected to compete with EU counterparts whose produce is cheaper because it is more highly subsidised, not least thanks to those generous UK taxpayers. It is hardly surprising that our supermarkets prefer to buy from France and Ireland. You can't expect Mr Gill to explain this, because his members might wonder why we belong to such a silly club anyway. But at least, since Brussels has now decided that the next FMD epidemic will be tackled by vaccination, the NFU will tell us how they can't imagine why no one came up with such a wonderful idea before.