Sir, The Oxford Farming Conference in January 2022 will include a Debate: "This House believes that food production in the UK should not be subsidised".

The organisers are apparently unaware that food production in the UK is not currently subsidised. Historically, the CAP emphasised direct subsidies for agricultural produce.

To reduce price distortion, the connection between subsidies and the various farm products was removed. Instead, a Single Farm Payment was introduced in 2003 which subsidised farmers on a per-hectare basis to comply with WTO agreements to reduce market distorting subsidies and price controls. This change made clear the fact that farmers are subsidised, not food production.

The late Richard Body, an MP and a farmer, wrote two books, 'Agriculture: The Triumph and the Shame' (1982) and 'Farming in the Clouds' (1984). They are essential reading for anyone wanting to know the truth about farm subsidies. He showed that all subsidy money can be traced to increases in the price of farmland. It is the owners of farmland who get the benefit from subsidies.

Contrary to popular belief, subsidies do not reduce our costs of production, neither do they reduce the retail price of food. These falsehoods are not converted into the truth by their frequent repetition.

The increases to the price of farmland makes it almost impossible for young newcomers to start farming; they also allow many farmers to produce less than their farm's optimum productive capacity and still enjoy a good standard of living by relying on the comfort of the subsidy cushion. And they encourage owners of large farms, using subsidy money they want but do not need, to buy more land in the mistaken belief that increasing economies of scale are infinite and that large farms are always more efficient than smaller ones.

The top 25% of farmers are consistently profitable and more productive than the rest. Self-sufficiency in food in the UK could increase considerably if subsidies were removed and all the farmland used to its optimum capacity. Farmers should stop begging for more subsidies and join the campaign for radical reform of the antiquated, complicated and disincentive tax system, to reduce their costs of production and so become more profitable. This would happen if taxes on employment and trade were replaced by the state’s collection of the annual rental value of land, urban rural, and other natural resources.

The recently proposed changes to the ways in which income support will be given to farmers will not alter the fact that the subsidy money will go to the owners of land, and those with the largest holdings will get most of it.

Duncan Pickard,


St. Andrews