By Hamish Waugh

The recent House of Commons vote on the Ag Bill, which threw out a Lord’s amendment that would protect the population from food produced to lower standards than our own, caused an outcry from farming leaders across Britain.

Universally, they were saying how British farming had been sold down the river – how British agriculture had been thrown under a bus and a whole host of all the other euphemisms that could be mustered.

Should we be surprised by the lack of support for our food producers from government and the general public alike?

When you look at what is happening in our society, then quite honestly I think farmers are being treated unfairly to put it mildly and are being pushed to the bottom of society’s hierarchy at an alarming rate. And none of our farming leaders seem able to put the brakes on this descent.

Let’s take a look at the evidence, since the foot-and-mouth epidemic of 2001, less than 20 years ago, farmers have increasingly had the finger pointed at them for destroying the environment, whilst at the same time are being constantly insulted by politicians telling us we need to be more efficient.

I will lay out why I see this point as an insult later, but we are certainly being required to be ever more innovative when we are needing to set areas of land aside for nature and at the same time produce more food from a smaller area of farmed land.

Since time immemorial, farmers have always done their best to produce more food with the resources they have at hand, with careful genetic selection of both plants and animals they have done wonders in their field of expertise.

There are several areas of production that have actually doubled in the 45 years since I was at college. This includes some cereals, the amount of milk a dairy cow can produce and the tonnage of dry matter grown on a field of grass.

But still we hear our politicians telling us we should be doing more. It is nothing short of an insult when someone who knows so very little about a subject so very dear to our hearts, is telling people to go exactly where their own ambitions are taking them anyway.

UK farmers are so efficient at their job that we produce for our nation the cheapest food in the world when expressed in terms of a percentage of the average wage, at 8.2%, third only to USA at 6.2% and Singapore at 6.8%.

I think this is a great testament to UK food producers when in 1951, 40% of our wage was spent on food. This halved for the shopper in 1985 and halved again in 2005, bringing the food bill down to 10% of a working man’s wage.

The success of farming in reducing the food bill has been rewarded by a lot of animosity being generated towards the farming community.

It is common place for those not in the know to complain about the amount of public money that is given to the those who produce food to some of the highest welfare standards in the world.

Taking a look at, you will see UK ranks fourth in the world for animal welfare but the US – which our government is desperate to do a trade deal with – ranks a lowly 31 out of 50 on the website.

The vote against the Lords amendments protecting our own high welfare standards instead favours having the ability to import food that isn’t safe to eat unless it is washed in chemicals to kill the bugs in it (chlorinated chicken).

The US is the second largest pork producer in the world, exporting some 26% of its production at 2.2m tonnes, so in a trade deal with the US we would be leaving ourselves open to being overwhelmed.

Cheap beef produced using hormones and fed a diet that is far less environmentally friendly as our predominantly grass fed beef would also find its way to our shores, which is testament to the disdain politicians have for our farming community.

Farmers have been targeted as the bad boys when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, with foresters very much the good guys! Come on, it’s time to score the two industries on a like for like basis – time to include energy used in harvesting and transporting timber and turning it into a useable product, either that or remove our tractor emissions from the equation.

Please, no more flaky science. If we turned over our fields to become butterfly meadows and nesting habitats, home to wild deer and mountain hares and no longer producing food, how different would this natural environment be in terms of greenhouse gas emissions? I can see my sheep grazing a hill side, as they have done for several hundred years, at one with the skylarks and abundance of wildflowers living beside them?

The freedom from the CAP Messrs Johnson and Gove spoke of in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, would give politicians the chance to move farmers away from being paid to produce food and towards working for the environment, thus placating the ever louder voices that farmers are damaging the environment. Thus ignoring the fact that anyone who eats food must share in the responsibility for it’s production.

It is there, plain to see. Headage payments gave way to the Single Farm Payment, later to become Basic Payment Scheme; now to be replaced by ELMs, (Environmental Land Management) whereby payments will go not to farmers, but to ‘land managers’ working to enhance the environment (especially so in Tiers 2 and 3) rather than to produce food.

If trade deals are going to keep the cost of food down, then it is clear to me that farming is being side-lined. I am of the opinion that our farming leaders need to waken up to this reality, or end up losing their jobs, our industry and a way of life.

They can’t let all this happen, surely?

When speaking of animosity towards the agricultural community, it is pertinent to ask just how much money do our farmers receive from the taxpayer?

A little research showed that in 2019 the tax man received £623.36bn in revenue and paid out £2.7bn to farmers. Do the sums for yourself, for every pound you give the tax man, less than a quarter of a penny goes to the section of society responsible for putting food on the nation’s table.

That is about one fifth of what government spends on overseas aid, while 20.3p in the pound goes to the NHS, 24.3p is spent on welfare, but interestingly enough £17.5bn is spent subsidising other business and industries, considerably more than farmers. And you never hear derogatory comments regarding these sums of money in public.

The overwhelming desire of politicians to feed their electorate as cheaply as possible is a big vote winner, but the other benefit to the politician is that it enables people to have more money in their pockets to spend on consumer goods, cars, mobile phones, a TV in several rooms and gadgets.

This not only boosts the economy but the vast majority of money spent in this area earns the tax man 20p in the £ in VAT (outwith the coronavirus pandemic measures).

If farming and home food production is going to be side-lined, it is quite clear then that we are entering back into the realms of food shortages, the likes of which we have not seen since the late 1940s.

I would implore our political leaders to think long and hard on a policy which has short-term gain and long-term pain, of the absolute mess their successors will be left with and the impossible task of unpicking it should they continue to neglect farmers, the nation’s food producers.