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“Developing a Reliable, Sustainable, Self-Reliant Manx Agriculture” 14 April 2008

This is the title of a Report which is the subject of a motion being moved by the Minister for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry at the April sitting of Tynwald, seeking support in principle to the recommendations contained within it.

An advert has appeared in the local press recently which suggests that the recommendations contained in the Report will be detrimental to the future of Manx agriculture. The Department wishes to address the issues raised in this advert and would respond as follows:

“With payments no longer being linked to production, beef and sheep farming will become loss making enterprises”

It is accepted that today many farm businesses in the Isle of Man are already unprofitable and this fact, coupled with soaring costs, such as feeds, fertilizer and fuel, without radical change, is likely to result in our farmers experiencing even further decreasing returns.

The proposals worked up by the industry, farmers and the Department offer significant extra investment in agriculture by Government and do not cut farmers’ support. The new proposals generally result in farm businesses initially receiving the same amount of support as they have done historically.

Over time, as payments move to a flat rate area payment, the proposed scheme will favour more extensive farm operations over intensive ones.

The intention behind the proposals is to provide Manx farmers with equivalent returns to their EU competitors. DEFRA figures show average UK farm incomes increased for the second successive year in 2007, up 8.7% in real terms*. It is no coincidence that in 2005 the UK implemented similar reforms to those the Department is proposing.

Less locally produced food, needing imports with more food miles”

This statement makes the assumption that livestock numbers will fall if these proposals are implemented. This may occur, but with 70% of our lamb and in the region of 50% of our beef being exported, any reduction in meat to market would very likely result in simply less food being exported – reducing food miles in our export markets.

Additionally, as farmers will receive support regardless of what they produce from their land (not just red meat, milk and cereals as is currently the case), it is likely that some farmers may diversify into new markets. For example, farmers markets are desperately short of locally produced vegetables. If this happens, we are likely to see a greater diversity of Manx produced food.

“Taxpayers money paid just for countryside care instead of food production which already cares for the countryside” / “ A less attractive landscape which is presently maintained by productive farming”

We are justifiably proud of our countryside and recognise this is largely down to agricultural activity. However, the proposals make clear that for farmers to continue to receive support they will have to comply with a strict set of land management criteria, which include codes of best practice that are currently only voluntary. This will ensure that the countryside is maintained and at the same time be likely to lead to a more bio-diverse countryside.

“Job losses in businesses that service farming”

It is impossible to predict this – the majority of businesses that support farmers, such as agricultural merchants, already complement their business with non-agricultural services and are unlikely to be entirely dependent on farmers’ business. If our proposals are supported and successfully implemented we envisage greater profitability for farmers and with more money circulating within the industry we would be surprised to see job losses.

Collapse of our meat marketing arrangements due to fewer animals.

The proposals include significant interim support to the meat plant during the transitional period. This is specifically aimed at ensuring that the infrastructure is maintained. In addition, Isle of Man Meats Ltd is working hard to develop mechanisms to ensure consistency of supply by developing contracts with farmers to ensure they are able to meet market requirements.

In summary:

  • It is impossible to predict the future; however, the Department truly believes that the proposals put Manx agriculture in the best position to cope with an increasingly fast moving, dynamic and volatile food industry.
  • These proposals are supported by all major industry bodies (Manx NFU, Isle of Man Meats, Isle of Man Creamery and Agricultural Marketing Society) who have contributed significantly to the proposals.
  • The independently commissioned Andersons report also supports decoupling of Agricultural support from production and clearly stated that remaining with the status quo was not a viable option.

In conclusion, it ought to be borne in mind that the Department has not developed these proposals in isolation. Many important features of the proposals are at the specific request of farming lobbies or agricultural processors. The Minister has recorded his appreciation for the incredible amount of work put in by individual farmers and their organisations in formulating the proposals contained in the Report.

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