Recently I joined the Land Workers Alliance. The first time I heard about what they are up to I was moved to tears – the issues they are campaigning on are exactly the problems that have been dogging me daily since I started The Oak Tree Farm back in 2019. Some friends of The Oak Tree may remember my contacting election candidates back in 2010 and then meeting my MP Ben Gummer (that session yielded fine words, but sadly little action <sigh>. Perhaps I should go and chat with him again….)
In short the problems that I’ve encountered since the beginning are that regulations and grants are biased towards unfairly supporting large scale farmers, making life very difficult for small scale farmers. For example:
- The Oak Tree is 4.96 hectares in size. Until the recent CAP reform announcement, it was just too much hassle and expense to get basic CAP subsidies, and we are too “unconventional” to be eligable for environmental subsidies (despite seeing ever increasing wildlife on the farm since we took over….) Now we will soon simply become ineligable as the threshold will shortly be 5 hectares. At least that has a certain honesty, but is still isn’t fair.
- Hygiene regulations are absurdly complicated. It would cost us tens of thousands of pounds to set up the equipment to legally kill and process poultry on the farm, and no processor will take the small quantities of birds we produce. So we only sell live birds, which understandably isn’t idea for someone doing the shopping for Sunday lunch! It is quite possible to process chickens safely on a small scale – just take a look at my hero Joel Salatin at Polyface farm! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRF4EFOW2Vk
- Waste regulations are also absurdly complicated. I had to fill in some long faffy form about the excellent pond silt that a neighbour kindly spread on our land. This is fertiliser, not waste. Ditto (legal) pig food such as bread or brewers mash. TBH I don’t even understand the regulations, and I certainly don’t have the time to find out. I suspect they would also cost money… not even vaguely possible on our scale, and absolutely not necessary either.
- The Planning System also has a limit at 5 hectares. If you are under, which we are, you need planning permission for a 6×4 foot shed on agricultural land. Really, truly. See the shed at the top of the field? We had to apply for planning permission for it. If we were over 5 hectares it wouldn’t be a problem. This is made worse as there is “hope value” on our land – the previous owner insisted on a “clawback clause” – if I get planning permission for anything other than a very restricted set of buildings on the land (as negociated with him) I have to pay him half the uplift in value of the land. For 21 years from the purchase date in 2009. This is typical for land purchased on the edge of a town – if I were to get planning permission for a housing estate (which would be over my dead body, by the way) it would be worth about £1 million an acre. It is 12 acres in size which would be a lot of money, but still not enough to buy my soul. So the planning threshold becomes really painful as there would be all sorts of financial uncertainty and paperwork hassle to go for before we can get the building that we badly need to shelter our members in nasty weather, and to welcome visitors, cook meals together, preserve the harvest… all the things we could do with a proper building. We will get there, but it is just so much extra hard work due to the planning threshold of 5 hectares.
So, whe the lovely people of the Land Workers Alliance started talking about these sorts of issues, and more, I joined immediately, and joined their protest outside the Oxford Farming Conference recently. It made it onto Farming Today, which has to be a start!