Britain's agriculture needs a more ambitious plan than is yet on offer

Tony Gosling tony at
Fri Sep 7 15:27:45 BST 2018

Britain's agriculture needs a more ambitious plan than is yet on offer

LABOUR is right that Sajid Javid’s pilot plan for 
recruiting migrant fruit and vegetable pickers 
will not be enough to plug anticipated labour shortages on British farms.

However, shadow food, environment and rural 
affairs secretary Sue Hayman’s pledge to 
reinstate the agricultural workers’ scheme merely 
addresses one symptom of a much deeper-rooted problem.

To be fair to Hayman, she fleshes out that vision 
­ the decision to bring back the Agricultural 
Wages Board, announced by Jeremy Corbyn at this 
year’s Tolpuddle festival, will do far more for 
the sustainability of British agriculture by pushing up wages.

And the promise to prevent British food being 
undercut in reckless trade deals is also spot on, 
although a little late given Parliament has now 
ratified the Comprehensive Economic and Trade 
Agreement (Ceta) that the EU cooked up with Canada.

Canada’s food safety standards are lower than 
those in the EU ­ having been lowered in turn by 
Canada’s enrolment in the North American Free 
Trade Agreement (Nafta), driving standards down 
to the lowest common denominator with United States agribusiness.

As a report by Greenpeace, the Canadian Centre 
for Policy Alternatives and the Institute for 
Agriculture and Trade Policy 
last year: “Canadian agribusiness is already 
objecting to the continued existence of stricter 
EU food safety standards, saying they are 
inconsistent with Ceta and a problem that must be resolved.”

Hayman’s promise to restore the agricultural 
workers’ scheme will not solve any of the underlying problems on our farms.

The reason the David Cameron government scrapped 
the scheme in 2013 was that it seemed to be moot. 
It allowed Romanian and Bulgarian workers to get 
fruit-picking jobs in Britain at a time when they 
did not have the right to work here otherwise.

 From 2013 both countries had transitional labour 
market curbs removed, so workers from them could 
come here anyway and had no need of special visas.

Was the National Farmers Union satisfied? No, it 
denounced the Cameron government’s decision and 
called for the scheme to be extended beyond the 
EU, to countries such as Ukraine.

The bosses’ organisation’s fear was that if 
Romanians and Bulgarians were allowed to do 
anything else, they would certainly not opt to 
pick fruit – so a new group of workers who didn’t 
have other options was needed. Which suggests the 
pay and conditions in the sector were not terribly attractive.

Restoring the Agricultural Wages Board is a 
better solution, since it tackles a reason for 
the shortage of labour ­ low pay ­ without 
resorting to the super-exploitation of poorly paid migrants.

On its own, though, it will not be enough. The 
decline of rural communities across Britain is linked to other factors.

Privatised transport networks are not interested 
in serving communities, but turning a profit, and 
the result has been the decimation of Britain’s 
rural transport infrastructure. Many villages are 
now served by one bus service a week, if that.

A failure to regulate house prices has allowed 
second-home owners living in cities to drive the 
cost of village housing beyond the reach of people employed in agriculture.

If people can’t afford to live near farms, have 
no means of transport to get to farms and earn a 
pittance if they do somehow manage it, they are 
unlikely to consider farm work a practical option.

Corbyn’s Labour has the ambition to address these 
issues by controlling rents, clamping down on 
second-home ownership, raising wages and nationalising the bus network.

But it will require a systematic 
cross-departmental effort and a strategic 
approach directed through the planned regional investment bank.

Hayman’s fear that a “no deal” Brexit would leave 
British farms in the lurch is not wrong in the 
short term, but a sustainable revival of our 
agriculture depends on a government free of EU 
restrictions on state aid and publicly owned 
services that operate on a non-commercial basis 
to meet the needs of communities.

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'From South America, where payment must be made 
with subtlety, the Bormann organization has made 
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So much emphasis is placed on select Jewish 
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pursuit of Bormann quieted down at the request of 
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efficient German infrastructure in history as 
well as by all those whose prosperity depends on his well-being.'

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