Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Farm visit, USA

Gilmanton, NH: Stopping on a back road near here to buy some corn, Brad kindly gave me tour of the family farm. His is the eight generation on the farm which was established in 1780. Much of the land round here was abandoned later once the topsoil had been used up and the rocks presented problems. But here and there a few farms survive, often occupied by descendants of the original families.

The farm I visited was of a mixed type you rarely see in the UK today. They owned 160 acres with another 160 rented. The three boys were home from college but the wet weather had delayed the harvest. Once they specialised in chickens, some two thousand of them, but they abandoned that in grandad's day. Brad wasn't sure why.

They grow corn for their cattle and to sell in their roadside shop. Sometimes they sell sacks of corn for cook outs. They make and sell hay. In addition to their cattle, they have around 60 sheep, not usually a big item in the US but there is a niche market in local Bosnian American and Greek American communities. They sell for around $100 each. They still have a few chickens.

But their most lucrative line is probably their maple syrup which they sell in their store. But Brad admitted that cash flow was a problem at some times of the year which is where mom's job as a librarian came in handy.

Subsidies did not seem to feature much, but two other local people who were not farmers told me they were applying for federal grants for conservation work on their properties, opening up the woodlands to provide a better environment for the moose. One was planning to hold tented events on her land which counted as a form of agri tourism.

But with no Single Farm Payment, the viability of the farms that operate commercially must remain in doubt - not that one would want it introduced in the US.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

What does Doha round collapse mean for CAP reform?

The Doha Round has effectively collapsed and if it is revived at all, it will be when a new US president is in office. However, US policy could take a protectionist turn while India, which has been a stumbling block in the negotiations anyway, may have an even less liberal government in power.

Trade has been the main driver of reform of the CAP. It played a key role in the MacSharry reforms and again in the 2003 reforms. In both cases wily farm commissioners (MacSharry and Fischler) used the international trade negotiations to broker needed reforms.

Now, not only have we lost the pressure from trade negotiations, the food security argument is being used to justify a reversion to protection and subsidy. The economic downturn has weakened the momentum behind pressures for a greening of the CAP.

However, it's not all bleak news. The opportunity cost of the CAP in terms of the EU budget remains considerable at a time when there is an imperative to invest in research and development to compete with emerging countries.

Greater transparency about CAP subsidies may also foster greater public pressure for change. In this respect the work being done by Jack Thurston and others to ensure that as much as information as possible becomes readily available on the internet is of crucial importance.