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Less Dreaming, More Digging

My favourite magazine lands on the doormat – The Land – an occasional magazine about land rights – serious and interesting reading over breakfast.

The lead story – ‘Less Dreaming, More Digging’ couldn’t be more timely, and in one of the many informative and thought-provoking stories, Ed Hamer asks ‘Can Britain Farm Itself’

Given the highest rate of UK unemployment for nearly two decades, and the sharpest spike in food prices in living memory, the author asks if farming could once again become a major employer in the UK and comes up with a ‘rustic guide’.

After some rustic number crunching, the author reveals that the UK currently devotes “the equivalent full time labour of 16% of our agricultural workforce to the production of goods for export, while at the same time 2010 food imports equated to an estimated 91,893 full time agricultural jobs”. This means that if we cut exports and replace imports with domestic jobs, the UK farming sector would increase by 66,315 full time equivalents.

Perhaps more usefully, if we calculate the labour demanded by a standard diet supplied entirely from domestic resources, it is possible to feed 62.3 million people based as closely as possible on the balance of farming and land use in the UK today.

But of course the bigger question remains: How many people could we employ if we radically change the way we farm?

More rustic number crunching reveals that assuming a modest target of meeting 90% of domestic demand, we can assume a budget of £140 billion consumer spending (based on Defra 2010 figures). Currently, our centralised retail model awards the producers just 8% (£11.2 billion). When applied to 50 hectares of farmland allocated to each full time employee in Ed Hamer’s model, this equates to a gross margin of £33k per person per year. This is not sufficient for a 120 acre mixed holding – so to support this level of agricultural employment the share of the food pound received by producers would need to be significantly increased.

So the author proposes reorienting supply towards local markets so that producers can receive a higher proportion of consumer spending. By aiming at the 58p in the £ secured by Farmers Markets, or 21p from local retailers, the picture starts to look more achievable. A farmer could expect an estimated gross £98,562 based on 2010 figures, from a 50 hectare holding with a combination of vegetables, cereals and beef, of which she sold a quarter through a Farmers Market, a quarter through local retailers and still gave half of it away to Tescos (!)

Ed Hamer acknowledges that you can prove anything with statistics, and that the model he describes is idealistic, and needs robust research, modelling and testing. However the statistics quoted in the report reveal the insanity of our current model – for example in 2010 we exported 0.25 and imported 0.28 million tonnes of potatoes. The UK is not even self-sufficient in produce suitable to its climate and soil, and with all the associated social and environmental problems arising from the current model, we need a significant policy shift towards promoting production and consumption of domestic produce.

You can read the complete article and many other stimulating and readable articles at:

www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/articles/can-britain-farm-itself-2

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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