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'I Don't Want To Be the Boss of Farmers' Says Agriculture Minister 2 October 2008

DAFF Minister, Phil Gawne, addressed a packed meeting of the Positive Action Group at the Empress Hotel on Monday 29th September.

The Minister spoke for 30 minutes and told more than 100 people that the new financial support deal for farmers, to be debated in Tynwald later this year, will be a fairer deal for all Manx farmers and a fairer deal for the Manx tax payer.

Mr Gawne said that farm subsidies had been introduced in the 1950s as a measure to end food shortages following the Second World War. This was achieved, but subsidies also meant farmers produced what the government valued most, not the customer.

Mr Gawne said: 'Farmers need to produce what consumers want - not what Government tells them to. Government has been the boss of agriculture for 60 years. But farmers don't need a boss - they don't want a boss - and as a Minister I don't want to be the boss. The new financial support system aims to ensure farmers receive the funds they need to re-take control of their own businesses. It will give them the freedom to adapt and to make sure they're producing the food people really want to eat.'

Mr Gawne spoke of his own family's background in farming, which he said dated back before records began on the Isle of Man. He continued: 'Farming and politics are pretty similar – you sow seeds like you sow ideas, and you watch them grow – then you reap the harvest as the big ideas become a reality.

'These changes are a big idea. Since we first started looking at them 3 years ago we’ve run the largest and longest consultation process we’ve ever seen – with farmers, processors and consumers gradually coming to an agreement about the best way forwards. The best way to ensure the Isle of Man continues to produce food in the future; the best way to safeguard rural jobs; the best way to protect our environment and our heritage; the best and the fairest way to give farmers the freedom to respond to consumers; and the best and the fairest deal for the Manx taxpayers.

'Changing appetites, free world trade, the growth of emerging markets, climate change, agricultural reform within the rest of Europe – all these things are affecting us already,' he said. 'If we don't jump into the future soon we may find ourselves left behind for good.'

'This new deal will ensure that more farmers receive financial support - not less. This deal will guarantee that farmers on the Isle of Man continue to receive the same level of financial assistance as now – far into the future – across the next 10 years to 2019.'

He reminded the audience that last year he had succeeded in winning an additional £5 million from Treasury to assist with initiatives to significantly restructure the whole food sector. He also promised that DAFF would provide financial support to the three main processing units, the meat plant, the Creamery, and Laxey Glen Mills, so that they could offer prices to farmers that are competitive with UK processors.

Mr Gawne finished by saying: 'I am wholly confident that if I speak to you again in five years time – the question you’ll be asking is this: why didn’t you do this sooner?'

The Minister was supported by the President of the Manx National Farmers' Union, Howard Quayle, and by other farmers present. Mr Quayle said the changes had the support of all branches of the Manx NFU, which represents 80% of farmers on the Island. He said the changes were also supported by the Agricultural Marketing Society, and the Island's Meat and Milk Marketing Associations.

There was however opposition from David Moore, who is campaigning against the changes under the banner, 'Farmers for Productive Farming'.

Mr Moore said, 'I'm not necessarily against changing to a decoupled system but the transition is taking place too quickly.' Mr Gawne responded by reminding Mr Moore that, 'The transition is already scheduled to take place over 10 years. How much more time do you need?' he asked.

Roger Tomlinson of the Positive Action Group expertly chaired the meeting, and all parties left in good spirits.

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