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    Heated debate sparked by Guardian blog - NFU responds

    NewsThursday 11 July 2013
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    An interesting debate was opened up on Monday (8th July) when George Monbiot wrote a blog criticising the National Farmers’ Union.
     
    His post, in the Environment pages of the Guardian, criticised the NFU and a number of its policies calling it 'one of the most selfish, grasping and anti social organisations in the country'. Monbiot also criticised the amount of public money that the NFU receives stating that it is only possible the banking sector that secures ‘so much public money for its members while offering so little in return’.
     
    The NFU responded to these statements yesterday saying that Monbiot ‘will not rest until English farming is no more and we are all eating imported food’. The union’s statement also claimed that the journalist has ‘no real understanding of what it means to farm, grow food or compete in a tough marketplace’. And, they also claim that ‘bashing British farming seems to be something of a hobby horse for Mr Monbiot’.
     
    In his blog, Mr Monbiot criticised the NFU’s demand for the abolition of the Agriculture Wages Board. He said: ‘Farm workers are often extremely vulnerable, with low pay, long hours, dangerous working conditions and few opportunities for collective bargaining. The board offered them some defence against the worst forms of exploitation.’
     
    Earlier this year the NFU Deputy Chairman Meurig Raymond was quoted as saying: ‘Agriculture is the last remaining industry to have a wages board, leaving it totally out of step with the rest of the UK workforce, including others in the rural economy. This makes the decision to abolish it right and proper and will bring agriculture alongside other 21st century industries.’
     
    And, in their response to Monbiot’s blog post, the NFU came out and stated: ‘Abolition of the AWB has been a long-standing goal of the NFU. We have consistently argued that it is outdated, particularly with the existence of a national minimum wage and working time regulations which apply to all employment. Mr Monbiot claims that the board offered farm workers some defence against the worst forms of exploitation. I would ask why he thinks the current laws protecting people from exploitation are not sufficient for farm workers, when they are sufficient for every other industry in the country?’
     
    The Guardian journalist also criticised the NFU’s stance on the Common Agricultural Policy. He said that they are fighting in order to ensure that there would be no cap on the amount of taxpayers’ money a single farm could receive. As you are most probably already aware, the European Commission had proposed a cap of €300,000 a year. Monbiot claims that this amount is not enough for the ‘multi-millionaires’ scooping up public funds. He mentions the fact that the more land you own or rent, the more money you receive, criticising the fact that some of the NFU’s top members ‘take millions a year from taxpayers’. 
     
    The NFU’s response to these criticisms was clear. They state that they have long argued that they want agriculture markets to work more fairly. They use their ‘decade-long lobbying for the Grocery Suppliers’ Code of Practice and support for the new post of the GSCOP Ombudsman’ as an example of this. The NFU claims that these campaigns are aiming to ‘reduce farmers’ dependence on CAP support’.
     
    They also said: ‘We know that everyone has to accept budget cuts. On CAP this is the key – it has to be a fair cut across Europe and implemented fairly with each Member State.’
     
    Monbiot also claims that the NFU has ‘lamented the fact that young people trying to make a start in farming will receive more public funds’. He mentioned the new EU decision to shift two per cent of the money currently handed to farmers who own or rent farmland, to new entrant young farmers. And stated that the NFU has claimed this to be an oppressive measure which is a ‘bad deal’ for farmers. 
     
    Again the NFU has responded stating that they actively encourage more young entrants into the industry. Peter Kendall, the NFU President, said: ‘We do not 'lament' the fact that young farmers will be recognised in the future CAP. Far from it, the NFU and its Next Generation Board supports targeted aid for young farmers within the CAP. 
     
    ‘Throughout the negotiations we argued that the best way to support young farmers into the industry through the CAP was a targeted young entrant’s scheme in Pillar 2, not as a small top up to young farmers in Pillar 1.
     
    ‘Our concern was this was the wrong measure. Entrants who need help are those struggling to raise the capital to get into farming, not those who are already there, often by inheritance, who will be the only ones who benefit from this measure. It would have been better to use the funds to subsidise interest rates for new entrants’

    It is an interesting debate and we shall see if Monbiot responds to the NFU's statement in the coming week. 
     
    There are a number of other issues discussed by Monbiot in his blog and a number of responses in the NFU’s rebuttal. To read the original post by Monbiot, click here, and to read the full NFU response statement, click here

    Picture: Scott Robinson
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