LANDLINES: Farmers will have mixed feelings over election results

It was a remarkable night’s election viewing and listening for anyone who had the stamina or thought they could get through the next day’s work without sleep.

But as the Conservatives outflanked all poll predictions except the exit one, any farmers watching must have had mixed feelings.

Without me being pro or anti any political persuasion that is, because the Conservative leader, Prime Minister David Cameron, has promised a referendum on Europe. Even as things stand the Conservatives are the only party to have in mind a reduction in farm subsidies and more dependence on market returns.

If in 2017 we vote to leave the European Union that would end EU farm subsidies in Britain. There is no guarantee that the present annual total of more than £3billion paid to British farmers would be replaced on anything like the same scale by a British government elected on an austerity platform.

If farmers, particularly those in the most heavily-subsidised sectors of beef cattle and sheep, do have to rely more on the ups and downs of the market, it gives extra emphasis to a recent PhD project by Scottish Rural University College graduate Kalina Kasprzyk.

She analysed the farm incomes of 151 farmers over a range of farming systems and areas over 14 years and found that over these years the gap between the highest and lowest earners changed very little. That is, none of the farmers in the bottom 25% of those analysed moved up and none of the top 25% slid down. A bit like the premier football league, the same names stayed at or near the top, the mid-table and relegation strugglers struggled on year by year.

It makes me wonder whether the annual reports on, say, beef and sheep production produced by organisations such as Quality Meat Scotland do any good. They prove consistently that good managers in control of costs are in the top third and those whose management is poorer and can’t control costs are in the bottom third.

What these reports are intended to do is encourage the bottom third of performers to improve. They don’t show year to year whether they do. What Ms Kasprzyk’s project indicates is that they don’t. She concludes: “Inequality within the industry is structural and persistent and the higher incomes are held by a small proportion of farmers”, no matter how hard Europe’s common agricultural policy (CAP) has tried to even incomes out.

I had occasion recently to have several lengthy phone calls with an insurance company which also involved some almost lengthy ‘on-hold’ spells. Irritating and frustrating, but I couldn’t help a wry smile as I listened, at different times, to ‘In or out of the money’, ‘Happy together, unhappy together’, and best of all, ‘Come rain or shine.’ An insurance company with a sense of humour? Surely not.