Letter: The rural reality
Friday 05 March 1999
Sir: The argument over farming subsidies has become divorced from reality, submerged in a futile debate about whether the countryside would be preserved or not if farmers ceased to get their cheques from the EU.
"Subsidies amounted to pounds 18,300 for every Welsh farm last year, equivalent to 98 per cent of their net income," Andreas Whittam Smith writes. Quite, and that means that without the subsidy there would be almost no Welsh farms at all. Indeed, even with that subsidy upland Welsh hill farmers are forecast to earn a princely pounds 48 in the coming year - greedy bastards.
The argument about subsidies has nothing to do with the preservation of the countryside. It is a hard-nosed argument about the economic survival of tens of thousands of people, village schools, the villages themselves, our market towns and our public services.
In Wales we know well what the death of great industries following the withdrawal of public subsidy means. We know and agree that the mechanisms of support for farming must change to sustain the environment. Farmers hate having to depend on subsidies for their living. But don't let anyone be fooled by the beguiling mirage of cheaper food if subsidies go. Farmers have received about 40 per cent less for their produce in the market in the last two years, but food is no cheaper in the shops.
JAMES GIBSON WATT
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