Farmers have got just on and coped with flooding and gales

One of many recent TV reports on bad weather was instructive. Interviewing victims of flooding in Britain produced a string of complaints about failure by government, councils, environment agency, police and quite probably Old Uncle Tom Cobley to do something.

Sunday, 19th January 2014, 4:34 am

Interviewing Americans about heavy snow, massive traffic and business disruption and temperatures down to minus 30 produced shrugs, grins, advice to wear as many clothes as possible and “Let’s get on with it, man. Weather happens.”

From a lifetime experience of occasional severe weather I’d say that most of us in rural areas, as during the arctic blasts and heavy snow of 2010, are quite good at getting on and dealing with it. History also suggests that the British have been phlegmatic about dealing with problems of every kind, not just weather, by using their own initiative.

But the tendency seems to be increasing to moan and blame anyone and everyone for problems rather than try to solve them ourselves. As far as weather disasters are concerned I’d exempt most farmers. More than 4,000 claims for weather damage estimated so far at more than £40 million over the past few weeks, have already been made to NFU Mutual, but that’s business. Farmers have got on and coped with flooding and gales at the time they happened.

I can’t help thinking it would be welcome, and a good if belated New Year resolution, for them to take the same attitude to farming subsidies. If the same effort went into innovation, development, organisation and better management and finance control as goes into arguing about European Union farm subsidies we would have a more efficient industry.

I know that stricture does not apply to many farmers, especially and obviously in the unsubsidised sectors such as pigs, poultry, potatoes and vegetables. Examples of innovation, new technology, precision methods, better marketing and enthusiasm always make better reading or viewing than never ending moans about EU subsidies and how the latest complicated slicing of common agricultural policy (CAP) money will apply.

But too many farmers still hang on to the idea that the CAP is their only salvation as a glance at any farming magazine any week will show. The small-p political thrust from farmers’ unions is inevitably “What is the CAP doing for us? And why isn’t it doing more?”

A lot of effort and money goes into the unions making that case. Couldn’t it be better spent elsewhere? I know that farmers get lots of advice, much of it from advisers and consultants on big salaries in jobs with pensions. But the latest advice that “farmers who are willing to adapt and innovate will prosper” is only common sense. Those already ahead of the game know that. Too many who think that CAP subsidies will last for ever in some form obviously don’t.