Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Farm income comes from Brussels SFP payment

The new UK farming income figures have been released which shows the industry ticking over nicely at £4.07bn, or a satisfactory £21,000 a farmer. Macro figures like this matter, as global planners of economic policy in London, Brussels, Davos or New York can only grasp the headlines without rooting too deeply into the details. Which seems, from their news release, to be how DEFRA would like it to be. 
The TIFF (Total Income From Farming) figure has been broadened over the years to include any income that finds its way into a farmhouse, including B+B, industrial lets, mobile phone masts, and more - 'anything which cannot be separated from the agricultural business'. 
Take a fractionally deeper look at the £4bn and you'll see it includes a Single Farm Payment (SFP) payment of £3.6bn which comes from Brussels. Strip this payment, which is not seen or considered as a subsidy, but a reward for managing the glorious British countryside, and the income from actually producing crops and livestock looks meagre indeed. With less than half a million coming from actual farming, it's clear that many farmers are operating at a loss and would have been better off not farming but simply taking the SFP. The reasons for not simply packing up, selling the cows and doing as little as is compatible with getting the Farm Payments are not so complex. There's the omni-present optimism that the next year is the one where corners are turned and profits made. There's a lack of trust in politicians, who are the people sustaining the valuable payment, and a suspicion that it may be drastically reduced. There's also the long term nature of the business, which means that starting back in either livestock or even crops is something that takes not months, but often years.  
The official farm income figures contrast with the up-beat message from Defra ministers and indeed the farming unions themselves who have all subscribed to the call for increased production in order to feed the burgeoning world population which, as we all know, is due to reach 9 billion in a decades time. But would increasing production, getting more intensive, add to existing losses?
Slicing into costs can be a sustainable way of righting the profit-loss see-saw. Remembering that machinery makes up a high proportion of fixed costs, any efforts to reduce these can be financially very useful. So reducing the replacement of machinery and running older kit, modifying existing fixed equipment, adapting used and maybe redundant machinery are useful ways to reduce capital spending. Cutting inputs such as fertiliser, feed and others will generally have greater consequences on output. 
Review the latest cost cutting ideas here:

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