Brussels, what an eye opener. I went with four other cross party MPs who also have rural constituencies similar to mine. My farmers didn’t ask me to go, they hardly ever complain. Given what Bedfordshire farmers have had to put up with over the last two years with the complete and utter debacle regarding the single farm payment subsidies, I would have taken any amount of grief from them willingly, however, Bedfordshire farmers have been stoic.
Just let me give you a few facts about dairy farmers; there are only twelve herds left in Mid Beds. In fact, Bedfordshire has had a dramatic decrease in dairy herds compared to other UK counties. If you are reading this and from Mid Beds, have you ever wondered where all the cows have gone?
British dairy farmers receive the lowest price per litre for milk in Europe. There is a 37% gap in the table between what the UK receives, which is at the bottom of the table, and Italy. The milk price per litre in Italy is 35.8 euros compared to the UK at 25.9.
In the UK the supermarkets are king, especially the big three. They take a large profit margin from milk, squeezing and holding the price paid at the farm gate.
The purpose of the trip to Brussels was to find out how the British farmer, dairy and arable, could get a better crack at the euro whip.
We met with Commissioner Fischer Boles. Impressive lady, her grandfather made the first Danish Blue. She understood all the complaints and points we put to her. Now this is a blog, not a paper, and I know I am in danger of becoming boring to those of you who like to read my blog for a peep into the workings of Westminster, but just bear with am a minute. Let me give you a long quote from my minutes.
Q “Commissioner, how can British farmers become more profitable given the farm gate price they receive for their milk and what can be done to at least bring their income in line with farmers in the rest of Europe. How can we break the hold the supermarkets in the UK have on our farmers”
A” You farmers need to withhold their milk from the supermarkets. At the moment half the milk produced within the UK stays as liquid milk (48% actually) and the other half is converted into value added products, yoghurt, cheese etc. If all your dairy farmers withheld their milk from the supermarkets, and put more into value added, the drop in the availability of milk would drive up the price”
ME..” No it won’t. The supermarkets will import milk from Europe which will mean that the farmer in Europe will get an even better price and British farmer’s will still miss out”
Commissioner “Ah yes, but in the meantime they will have penetrated the value added market.”
Me “The chillier shelves in the UK are full of imported value added products from France and other countries. Each one of those producers will have established contracts with supermarkets, it would be incredibly difficult for the processors to penetrate that market, and besides, what happens in the time it takes to achieve penetration, the British farmer will simply wither on the vine - and given that the UK is the only country in Europe which doesn’t have a farming assistance programme (thanks Nick) for entry into farming that will leave farming in the UK all but dead”
Silence, a smile from the commissioner. When we had our photograph taken she said “very good, we women need to be strong yes?”
Yes, we do, but not as strong as British farmers need to be to survive.
The commissioner mentioned the internal market. This in Europe is how they think - that Europe is one big shopping mall and everything is the same price and everyone makes the same profit.
Then internal market is a distorted con. I will believe in the value of the internal market when the EU has its accounts audited.
We are being absolutely done. We pour vast millions into the EU everyday which, in terms of agriculture, appears to find its way to the farmers in Europe in order they do well whilst ours become bankrupt. Let’s not even mention the suicide rate amongst British farmers.
The UK is about to be fined by the EU, I think the figure is £380 million. Millions, billions, trillions, it means nothing in the EU, it’s just numbers.
The reason? Margaret Beckett made such a hash and a mess of administering the single farm payment subsidy in the UK that it is being fined by Europe. What is happening to that fine? Given that the people who suffered as a result of the botched mess were the British farmers wouldn’t it be fair if it was distributed amongst them?
Well it would, but it’s not. The commissioner answered very clearly “the money will go into the central EU budget – would you like me to come and give your farmers a pep talk?”
I noticed in the taxis I got into in Brussels that not a single seat belt worked in any of them. An excellent example of how we gold plate rules - whilst the rest of Europe completely ignores them.
My overwhelming feeling as I left the EU was similar to one I get when you have eaten too much, or spent twice as much as I should have on a pair of shoes. Not helped by the large packing boxes which sit outside each office of every member of the EU Parliament. The boxes are because one week in every month everyone moves to Strasbourg. That’s everyone and everything, a huge office move once a month.
That kind of waste does make me feel ill. I would love to know how much that all costs, however, the EU hasn’t had its accounts audited in seven years.
I am off to the Indian in Woburn Sands now with my brood – have a good rest of the weekend!
I haven't spel checked or read back because I am being shouted at so forgive me!!!