Category Archives: farming

A bastion of privilege?

How quickly they forget!

It’s less than a year since most of our biggest retailers and dairy processors got stung with big fines for fixing the market for milk.  They had manipulated the market to overpay producers and overcharge consumers.  Now they’re doing exactly the same again, as the militant wing of the producers lobby applies pressure to pay them above market rates!

The underlying problem appears to be that most of the media and government always take the producers side.  Indeed, our supermarkets stand more-or-less permanently accused of screwing their suppliers, and have faced one price-fixing investigation after another.  So it’s all the more ironic that the only actual wrongdoing happened when they gave in to pressure from the farming lobby (which included media and indeed government of the day) and overpaid in 2002/3.

So far this time round it looks a lot like a repeat.  Militant farmers blockade someone and issue press releases “we’re being paid less than the cost of production”.  Media parrot the press releases without any questions of the kind they’d ask any normal business (“can’t you reduce those production costs?  For example, keep that range rover a second year before replacing it?”[1]).  Indeed, media go even further: sometime they positively incite further “direct action”, for example in an interview with one of the militants on the PM programme on Saturday.  If you want to listen, it’s near the beginning, but this link is probably only available for a few days now.

Why does this farmers lobby (unlike most trade unions making similar demands) always have the media so firmly on-side?  Could it be because of the association of farmers with landowners: the old aristocracy whose privilege cannot be questioned?  If upstart newcomers benefit, that’s by-the-by, and as for tenant farmers (the ones who really aren’t rich), higher prices will just enable their landlords to charge higher rents, and vice versa, in the medium term.

Who will get fined this time round?  Apart from the long-suffering consumer, of course.  Fortunately I’m a lot richer than I was in 2002/3: milk is one of many things I can easily afford now but had to do without most of the time back then.

[1] Of course not every farmer has a new range rover every year: most of them are busy getting on with the job.  But it’s precisely the kind of production cost that enables them to ‘prove’ they’re making a loss.

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Open source farming

The Beeb’s early morning farming program[1] today featured a finalist in their “farmer of the year” media event. Today’s finalist is someone who makes a business growing herbs in Scotland, and I found it genuinely interesting.

The Beeb’s farming coverage is mostly in the vanguard of the propaganda effort telling us that farmers are good but hard done by, and supermarkets (especially Tescos, the biggest and most successful) are evil. Today’s herb grower is a clear exception: he’s spent twenty years not whinging, but building a successful business instead. His biggest customer is Tescos, but rather than tow the usual BBC line, he explained that they shared the common goal of selling fresh herbs to consumers, to everyone’s benefit.

That positive attitude to cooperative marketing will look familiar to open sourcers, but doesn’t of itself make an open source style of business. What provoked me into blogging was the additional information that this farmer has spent a lot of time travelling the world in search of best practice and ideas, and shares them freely with whomsoever is interested. That sounds like a genuinely open source style of business model.

[1] no link – the website is wrong: either it’s featuring another day’s (week’s?) program, or they changed their minds. UPDATE – this link now works, but will probably change again.