OPINION: Feeding the starving not our main driver

I was shocked to read in Farmers Weekly that I’d got rid of half my sheep – I didn’t know.

Guy Smith announced the news in his Opinion piece on 17 May. This will almost certainly trigger an inspection by the Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate, as I have clearly deceived them with my flock numbers over the past 10 years. Even worse it has led to tension between me and Mrs McQ.

She owns half of the Airyolland flock so she’s demanding to know if I’ve got rid of her half or my half.

I had led her to believe that we’ve reduced our sheep numbers by only 20% since support was decoupled.

However, as the 100 extra pedigree Beltex ewes we now keep are more work than the 250 commercial Blackies they replaced, we are now busier than ever.

But I’ve convinced her it’s worth it; the higher value of the Beltex lambs means we now get more of our income from the market.

That’s the thing that makes me happy, it’s decoupled utopia as far as I’m concerned.

But the news that I had got rid of half my ewes in order to take it easy was not the only thing I read that shocked me. The last few words of Guy’s column made me want to howl at the moon and chase the post van and bite its tyres.

It was the bit where he questioned the way that the current CAP has reduced European food production in a world that is increasingly short of food that sent me off on one.

There will be a farmer at every meeting you go to where the CAP is discussed who starts to bang on about how the world is short of food.

He will find any excuse to deliver an impassioned plea for the starving people in the world. More often than not, he’ll be a fairly glossy-looking character who arrived in a vehicle that would cost about the same as the GDP of a Third World country. His oration about how the world is starving and how the powers that be are more interested in birds and bugs will always be met with rapturous applause. It’s a real crowd pleaser if ever there was one. But really, when you stop to think about it, it doesn’t stack up.

Does that farmer really want us to believe that he only wants aid for his business in order to produce more food so that the world doesn’t go short? Call me a cynic, but I don’t think so.

Conversely, I’ve got nothing but respect for members of the public who are passionate about those birds and bugs that were met with derision by the same farmer. Their concern can be nothing other than genuine. They can expect nothing extra in their pay packets if the CAP delivers a sudden increase in the numbers of endangered birds.

The great bulk of Europe’s citizens want the CAP to deliver wholesome food and clean water that doesn’t, literally, cost the Earth. I don’t see too many of them campaigning to have farmland and water supplies pushed to the limit of endurance and safety because of their concern for the poor and the hungry in the rest of the world. Bob Geldof and others spearhead charities similar to “Send a Cow” that try to address poverty and hunger; it’s not what the CAP is about.

Governments also demonstrate their largesse by giving aid to Third World countries but they will always be mindful that charity begins at home. Farmers are just the same.

Neale McQuistin is an upland sheep and beef farmer in south west Scotland. He farms 365 hectares in partnership with his wife, much of which is under stewardship for wildlife.

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