‘Has Sean forgotten the economics of landscape and tourism?’

August 23, 2015

Corfe 2

TOURISM ASSET: This countryside which is directly looking from the top of the hill opposite Corfe Castle in Purbeck, helped in a small way to attract £1.76B spent in Dorset through a combination of day visits, staycations and foreign tourists.

Sean Rickard

SUBSIDY CLAIM: Sean Rickard, former chief economist to the NFU, believes dairy farmers should quit the industry and not expect the public to pay the cost of production they are seeking and live off the Basic Farm Payment.


A CONTROVERSIAL economist who advised the NFU for a decade says dairy farmers should quit the industry as he claims the public should not expect them to pay more for their milk.

Sean Rickard was speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme in response to the plight of milk producers and claimed they should live off a £28,000 subsidy (annually worked across the industry) they received as a result of the Single Farm Payment.

However on closer inspection of this claim made by Mr Rickard, four fifths of the agri-environment scheme budget’s subsidies were given to large landowners such as the National Trust and this wasn’t factored in when using this figure.

He was formerly an economic advisor to the National Farmers Union working as head of its economic group and chief economist and worked at senior level with the Government and the European Commission.

He told BBC Radio 4: “I think it is a tough time for dairy farmers and I’m very sympathetic but I think it is unrealistic for anyone in that position to expect us to pay them whatever price they think is needed to cover for their cost of production.

“We don’t apply that logic to any other industry. Farmers have had good times and bad times. Through a combination of factors they are now finding it tough. There is absolutely no reason to pay them more money than they already get.

“It is often overlooked that dairy farmers often receive a payment of £28,000 from the tax payer and that is cover some of these risks and that is all forgotten.

“Any other business that goes through a hard time has to put up with it. You didn’t hear us arguing in the 2009 recession that we had to pay businesses more money because they were going out of business or having to lay people off.

“Farmers have this shield that no other business has and we shouldn’t overlook it really. If they can’t survive with their subsidy, they should give up making milk and live off the subsidy.”

I don’t claim to be as venerated as Mr Rickard in the world of economics, but here are some facts worth considering.

Lorries with perishable produce have been contaminated by migrants in Calais and have had to be thrown away. Hauliers say this is costing them and their clients anything up to £750,000 a day.

Certain lines on supermarket lives could be at risk because there is a danger of it not being supplied. So doesn’t it beg the question, where do you get that fresh produce in bulk if you allow a number of dairy, beef, sheep and other farmers to go out of business?

Where is the food security for this country if you just leave it to the market place with all the instability going on in the world? In case he had forgotten Russia has boycotted EU dairy produce, China has cut its milk consumption and there is the threat of ISIS threatening our supply chain and the contamination of HGVS listed above.

I’m only a humble HND Rural Resource Management student from Seale-Hayne College but I may have an answer to the £28,000 “subsidy” that dairy farmers supposedly get for looking after the environment, so let’s unravel the spin.

According to research done by Professor Goringe of the University of Exeter, in The Common Good and Global Emergency (2011), the following observations were observed:

  • 80 per cent of UK subsidies of the Single Farm Payment went to large farms and estates, including the National Trust.
  • The smallest 30,000 farmers received a third of all the support and pig and poultry farmers did not quality at all.
  • Under the single farm payment, subsidies were disproportionately awarded so the average subsidy wage referred to is misleading.

Although this was based on three years ago, there is no indication the spend share on subsidies to recipients of the Basic Payment Scheme has changed drastically. This replaced the Single Farm Payment scheme on 1 January this year.

Mr Rickard should know that a regional brand (like the South West) depends on the countryside looking the way it is, and can only be provided by those who are small and medium-sized farms and wildlife conservation bodies like the Wildlife Trust, the National Trust and the RSPB. They have skills that can’t be replaced. Tourists visit Dorset, Somerset and the New Forest because of the way the landscape looks, not in spite of it.

If salt-marsh, moorland, heathland, meadows and conservation areas are not grazed by livestock and horses (like the New Forest) where they are needed, what are you supposed to do? You can hardly plug a Fly-mo into a remote bit of countryside and cut it, can you?

Take those skills away and the landscape begins to deteriorate, the values of those second homes in places like coastal areas of West Dorset and Purbeck or areas inland like the Somerset Levels, the Mendip Hills, the Cranborne Chase and the Blackmore Vale would surely depreciate.

In 2013 Dorset’s tourism bodies found the total visitor related spend in the county for that year was £1.767B and that generated 48,565 jobs. This represented 14 per cent of Dorset’s workforce.

Despite the trauma Somerset suffered in 2013 due to the flooding in the Somerset Levels and the rural communities of course, their tourism figures held up. The total spend was £1.28B and the total employment generated by tourism was 35,051 and this was 10 per cent of the workforce.

In all please remember these figures are a combination of day visits; people having staycation holidays in the area and foreign visitors.

May I dare to suggest that these figures must be in some small part to the efforts of those participating in the agri-environmental schemes and the wildlife conservation groups and these figures would be worse if this was not done.

So if Dorset and Somerset’s doesn’t have food production as its raison d’etre, what is its purpose? With cuts in public services, where is the money going to come from to provide the two counties (and other areas) as themes parks? How would you persuade people to prioritise that in local taxation?

If something works, don’t fix it – so pay the cost of production to our food producers and more if possible, and this in turn safeguards landscape designations and protects tourism and jobs.


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

JM August 24, 2015 at 10:42 am

Mr Rickard needs to get his facts right.
As BPS is based on the area we farm there are a lot of small family run farms that will receive much less than £28000 in subsidies.
We can’t give up farming and live off the subsidies, you have to be an active farmer to qualify for BPS.
Our beautiful English countryside with it’s patchwork of grassland, hedges and arable fields dosent just happen….. we all work very hard to maintain it and the tools of our trade are expensive; not just the machinery required but fencing, repairs, feed and vet expenses for our livestock, replacement costs etc, etc. All this is done by the most versatile workforce in the country, who often work ridiculously long hours for way below the minimum wage, don’t take holidays or time off sick. It’s often cold, dirty uncomfortable work, but we love it!
How many other industries expect such a variety of skills from one person?
If we force these smaller family farms out of existence, these skills will be lost , the countryside will change forever and it won’t be easy to recreate.
I’d like to challenge Mr Rickard to come and do my job for a week!


RC August 24, 2015 at 10:45 am

If we’re resigning to reliance on government hand outs we should all register as charities and start taking donations in a proper manner. Personally I’d rather strive for an honest living and tell the government where to shove their BPS and the CAP with it. I can’t be the only one tired of hearing how many millions I’m costing the taxpayer. Have you tried telling an NFU man, it gives them palpitations thinking about subsidy free farming.


From reader August 24, 2015 at 10:46 am

If we were payed the true value of food we wouldn’t need EU “hand outs”. Unfortunately people (not all I know) value holidays and sky TV more!


ED August 29, 2015 at 7:56 pm

We are a small family farm we don’t receive that amount farms are all shapes and sizes don’t forget the little ones.the subsidies are keeping the land grabbers happy. Wouldn’t need a subsidy if we weren’t screwed into the ground by EU and government


AN Other August 29, 2015 at 7:57 pm

I too would like to challenge Mr Rickard to come and do our job for a week (that’s 15 hour days for 7 days in agricultural terms).


RS August 29, 2015 at 7:58 pm

Sean Rickard. Whilst we are members of the EU25 we are entitled to the same levels of support as any of the other 24 member countries otherwise it would not be a level playing field.


GP August 29, 2015 at 7:59 pm

Your whole argument is based on the theory that you need a farm subsidy in order to keep the countryside looking pretty and thereby attracting tourism to the area which then helps the local economy to thrive????


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