Private Eye April 11When David Goddard, who runs a medium-size dairy farm near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, read an article from the Irish Examiner he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. It described how an Irish farmer with a herd of 30 cows can make a comfortable living producing 182,000 litres of milk a year, at an average of just over 6000 litres per animal. Like almost every other dairy farmer in the UK, faced with the recent collapse in UK milk prices by up to 5p a litre, way below the cost of production, Mr Goddard has been at his wits end, wondering how he can survive. Yet he has 130 Holsteins, producing a million litres at an average of 8400 litres each. How is it, he mused, that the Irish can make a living from production levels we left behind in the 1960s, while British farmers with herds 30 percent more efficient are going out of business at a rate of hundreds a month?
The most obvious reason why the UK milk price has gone through the floor is that the UK market is awash with cheap milk imported from Ireland and the continent.
But hang on.
Why, if British farmers are 30 percent more efficient, can't they afford to sell their own milk at a competitive price? The explanation is, firstly, that the milk price is set in euros and the devaluation of the euro means that these euroland farmers start at a massive 15 percent price advantage.
Secondly, thanks to the Brussels milk quota system, the continental and Irish producers have huge surpluses, which they can afford to offload into Britain at knockdown prices.
Thirdly, the Irish, French and German farmers have governments which do everything they can to assist them, with tax breaks, hidden subsidies and imaginative use of the rules of the common agricultural policy. Meanwhile the UK government seems convinced we have far too many small and medium-size dairy farmers, and is happy to see them melting away like snow in the sun, even though they are more efficient than their competitors.
Nothing does more to explain the crisis now afflicting British farming across the board than the simple fact that British taxpayers are putting more than £5 billion a year into the CAP and that only £2.2 billion of this comes back to help British farmers, In other words, for every £1 we put in to help our own farmers, UK taxpayers send another £1.50 to pay for our competitors in other countries. It is hardly surprising our supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of the cheaper meat, milk, fruit and veg which Britain has paid other EU farmers to produce.
And do we hear Ben Gill and his friends in the NFU screaming how crazy this is? No, their only answer to all these problems is that Britain must join the euro.
What they forget to tell their poor bemused members is that, if we did so, we would only be allowed to enter at the present exchange rate, so that the massive disadvantage we are already suffering under would remain forever.
This would certainly please the farmer-hating gang of bullies and thugs in charge of Defra, the department for the elimination of farming and rural affairs.
But it still seems odd that the NFU's only answer to the mortal crisis now engulfing British agriculture is to call for even more of the poison which produced that crisis in the first place.