Planning for rich at the expense of agriculture?

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I, LIKE many others, agree with Steve Martin’s concern (Examiner letters, February 15), on the special planning proposals to allow the super rich to bypass the normal planning rules to build mansions in the countryside. However, I do not share his surprise that this has been proposed.

In my view the Manx Government has conducted a continuous campaign over the past five years to knock out the four cornerstones of the agricultural industry to bring about its contraction and, in so doing, are converting the countryside from agricultural to rural, being the more preferred environment for those wishing to move to the country.

Having backed themselves into a corner by the expansionist policies of the past 50 years, where the population has doubled and 100s of millions are required to provide the services, clearly, the enticing of a few tax-capped £100,000 taxpayers by providing them with a tidy countryside with low agricultural activity will generate much more revenue for government than the tax on productive farming.

Firstly, their weak approach to negotiating an extension to the meat derogation on import control.

While the absence of control will place further export costs on agriculture so reducing its viability, it will also affect consumers as this long term production cannot be switched on when the boat does not sail or there are foot-and-mouth or other movement restrictions in the UK, so supply can only be assured on those days if it is purchased on all the days and that can best be achieved by continuing the control.

Secondly, the virtual abolition of new security of tenure and the closure of Knockaloe as a practical training farm, the retention of both being essential to cater for the growing number of young people, particularly from non farming backgrounds, wishing to enter farming. They would be well suited to keeping our small farm system going – many of which have become part time farms due to the low man hours now required due to new technology – and so retain people in the rural community.

Without the training farm, the next step for those that have showed such interest at Ramsey Grammar School will not be available and a missed opportunity to encourage much needed new people into farming.

Thirdly, their version of decoupling support, which has made production unviable, has reduced production considerably.

When the subsidy payments were fixed to production, their existence hardly affected us as farmers, as the wholesale buyers in the UK, who also set our prices, deducted the subsidy to arrive at the price that they were prepared to pay, thus passing on the benefit of the subsidy to the consumer. In spite of decoupling the support from the animals, but by still paying us the same amount of support, albeit under a different name, the wholesale buyers are still deducting it to arrive at the prices that they are paying.

This is borne out by the English Beef and Lamb Executive’s UK farm costings to March 2010, when the revenue from the market place alone, resulted in a loss of £330 per born, reared and finished beef animal for the average sample.

As this amount has to be voluntarily taken from our countryside care payments, it is not surprising that production has dropped, with beef cow numbers on the island down 18 per cent in the year to May 2010 compared with the average of the three years prior to decoupling.

Clearly a partial decoupling system, as many other EU countries have implemented, could have prevented this decline, which has also been at a similar level for the other enterprises, including a 22 per cent drop in horticulture, which is where we were expected to move into from livestock production.

Fourthly, the government’s desire to be involved in our marketing arrangements including the operation of the meat plant.

Their offer of support to the Plant from the Agricultural Development Fund to bring our returns nearer to that in the UK and to help offset the £230,000 a year rent that we pay to Government for the use of the Plant, is now being described by the minister as losses, which would have not been required had their offer of support not been made in the first place.

However, it has given them an excuse to be involved to put forward their intention for a smaller facility, mainly for the island requirement with our exports described as overproduction. Clearly, if they can achieve this then it will ensure that any recovery of the industry that could occur when the decoupling chaos resolves itself, which it must do eventually, that the recovery on the island will be thwarted by having limited processing facilities and so restricting island farmers from making a full contribution to the looming world food shortage.

With the general election coming in September and much talk of local policies, national policies and chief minister’s policy, I feel that, when the new members are elected, a complete review be undertaken of the agricultural changes that have been made over the past five years with the hope that they can be reversed. The new members may not wish to move the island ever closer to 100 per cent dependency on our taxation regime by sidelining our last significant indigenous productive industry.



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