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Cutting red tape for small farms

Comment 12th February 2015

Much of the damage to wildlife results from big farms with big fields all doing the same thing at the same time. Small farms (less then 100 acres) have smaller fields, and have an economic need to do things differently from their neighbours.

Small farms do not get the commercial discounts that their larger neighbours get. They also suffer from having to pay minimum charges for many services required under European Waste Directive etc. Sometimes the minimum charge is larger then the entire profit on small enterprises. Householders get the same ammount of rubbish disposed of free.

Livestock disposal cost is much higher for small farms then for large farms. On one occasion I calculated that we paid more per kilogram to dispose of 2 still born lambs then a large commercial farm paid in fines and disposal costs after illegally disposing of nearly 200tons of carcasses.

Electronic Identification of sheep (EID) costs much more for a small flock then for a large one. Officially the cost is about 60p, but after the cost of the application tool is taken into account it costs about £2.00 a sheep for our flock. (We couldn't possibly buy the machine which reads the tags)

Transport licences: We have a rare breed flock and need to buy in one ram every 3 years to avoid in-breeding. The nearest flock of the same breed is over 100 miles away. (We provide a unique insurance against foot and mouth etc for this breed that only has about 500 sheep in the world) Without a licence we can only transport our sheep 40km. Getting the licence for transporting our own sheep would cost £150 and involve 2 days away from our small business. Paying anyone else to transport them would cost more. 

Farmers get their ORDERS from DEFRA, and sometimes (in our case) from the Welsh Assembly (WA). The division of responsibilities bewteen these two organisations is not clear. Sometimes the WA website just links straight through to DEFRA, sometimes neither seems to have relavant information.

We have to apply for Rural Payements Agency forms to the local WA Dept of Ag office. We have a very reliable local postal service, but vital Rural Payements Agency forms often go missing. After 10 years, and having completely lost the opportunity to get Single Farm Payments because of undelivered forms, I have only just discovered that the forms are posted to Wales from somewhere in England. What is worse, WA Dept Ag staff do not even know where the forms actually come from! THis makes affective chasing of lost forms almost impossible.

When we were turned down for Single Farm Payment we were told that there was a two stage appeal. We tried the first stage, but couldn't go onto the second stage because the charge was more then we had in the bank, and was about 25% of the payment we would have gained if the appeal was succesful.

Surprisingly, having failed to get SFP we were told we could still get Tyr Cynnal (Entry level environment scheme) We would have to stick to a management scheme. I wrote out a scheme that had succesfully supported summer Grasshopper Warblers and winter Snipe but as soon as I presented it it was screwed up and thrown on the floor. We were told to obey a plan from Brussels. The field cannot be grazed or topped at the time Brussels allows as it is usually waterlogged at that time of year. The field is now swamped with rushes, we have lost the Grasshopper Warblers and Snipe and are losing the very rare Whorled Carraway which used to blossom there. I have seen no new species. Although we run the farm as a nature reserve with 1/2 acres fields the extra boundary regulations took 16% of our land out of production.

Also there are no grants available to help very small farms to diversify into non farming enterprises. All that are available require match funding that exceeds that available from cash flow. Banks are, apparently, not interested in small rural enterprises. 

I am sure that many farmers have similar stories and can give many other examples of damaging red tape.

  

Why does this matter?

I have worked on large commercial farms, and also on very small farms. For 25 years I worked in Agricultural Research, on the most sprayed farm in the world. On one spot on that farm I could see 20 skylarks singing over their nests. From another spot I could regularly see 8 hares in a lek. There were over 2000 species on the estate list. The reason that that farm was so good for wildlife was that it had small fields and a large variety of crops.

WIldlife is being decimated not by ‘modern farming methods’ but by crazy economics and government policies that encourage farms to merge, to grow the same crops, and to carry out every operation at the same time as their neighbours. (This is inevitable if you grow the same crops.) (THose who blame modern farming methods do not know the difference between primary and secondary cultivations, cannot even recognise a plough and certainly do not know the power requirements of different implements. Neither do they realise that the dangerous component of many pesticides is not the active ingredient but the solvents used in the formulations. -eg Decis active ingredient deltamethrin which mammals can safely drink, is classified as dangerous to operators because the solvent used is Carbon Tetrachloride  which used to be sold as Dabitoff or Zoff domestic stain removers.)

For part of my time in Research I worked as an ecologist and my beliefs expressed above are based on wide reading and crawling around fields in all weathers all over the country identifying, measuring and counting plants and insects.I have also done most jobs that farmers do in both commercial and experimental situations.

On retirement from research we put the family savings into a tiny 27 acre farm. The main income came from a craft enterprise, but even so a survey by Bangor University in 2005 found that we were the most efficient farm in Wales. At the same time the Forrestry commission judged that we had the 4th best Woodland Walk in Wales. THis year we won a commended certificate in The Beautiful Farm Awards, and were the highest placed farm in Wales. We are also one of the top 20 sites in the UK for moth diversity with over 230 species identified here. There are over 150 plant species here and over 65 species of birds. We have worked very hard to achieve this.

However the red tape, outlined, has wiped out all our agricultural income, and after 10 years of 100 hour weeks, doing most jobs by hand, we must sell up and leave our beautiful home. No doubt our farm will be bought by one  of our neighbours. One of these farms has been surveyed by DEFRA who found it to be an ecological desert.


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