The argument in favour of the motion is that government support for farmers could be used to deliver services which the public value, such as supporting the environment, promoting wildlife and protecting clean water. With this, there needs to be a better understanding of what the public wants from farmland and how it is managed.
The argument against is that subsidy reduces entrepreneurialism and that adversity drives innovation. The recent experience of the dairy sector was held up as an example. The industry needs to be challenged, be nimble and identify new opportunities.
For many farmers the idea of removing subsidy is easier to accept if farmers are paid fairly for what they produce. The UK may have some of the highest welfare standard in the world but is this enough for consumers to buy into, and pay for? Farmers can feel removed from their consumers and vice versa, which contributes to the lack of reward, and therefore profitability in the sector. Better marketing and positioning could help but also better understanding of the public benefits that farm businesses deliver. Does the description "farm" do justice to the full extent of the output of many agricultural businesses?
In a Twitter poll, which reached audiences through OFC and Brodies LLP, 85% of respondents believed that farmers should be paid for providing public goods, with 53% voting for enhancing the environment, 30% for education and tourism, 8% voting for forestry, and other suggestions included providing health and social care. The motion was also carried at the debate at the Royal Highland Show, which is probably not surprising given the audience at a predominantly agricultural event.
The real challenge is to take the question to the general public, the consumer, taxpayer and voter to gain their support to ascribe value to public benefits that they are willing to pay for with public money. It is our hope that the Brodies sponsored OFC debate at the Highland Show can play a part in contributing to that debate.
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