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From the editor: Government support for agriculture not strong enough

It is not always advisable to look to the United States for answers. Once a bastion of liberal democracy, it has become increasingly divided and politically erratic under the tenure of current president Donald Trump.

While the UK has rallied round its key workers during the coronavirus pandemic, with particular pride taken in the NHS and the vital role it plays in battling this terrible disease, the US’s comparative lack of universal healthcare is something we would not seek to trade for.

 

And yet, curiously, there are probably many farmers in the UK looking covetously across the Atlantic at the recently introduced Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Providing $16 billion (£12.8bn) in direct payments, it will provide farmers the chance to claim up $125,000 (£101,000) per commodity, up to a maximum of $250,000 (£203,000) per farmer if they produce more than one applicable foodstuff.

 

While it is no doubt a tactical move by Mr Trump, given the fact the rural heartlands of America form a crucial part of his voter base, there will be scores of farmers here in the UK craving such a show of support from their own Government at this turbulent time.


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Instead, here in the UK, Defra has sought to calm the ills of the dairy sector by relaxing competition laws and urging it to work together to manage supply.

 

In all likelihood, it seems this is a move which will bring little respite for those dairy farmers whose businesses are being hit as a direct result of Covid-19, with some commentators suggesting there are 500-550 farms in this bracket.

 

It is also a move which seems to jar with the fact the dairy sector has operated in a free market economy for several decades, with collaboration and cross-sector supply management not on the agenda for many.

 

The farming sector, and other business sectors for that matter, should have been provided with more direct and robust support during this downturn. While turning the economy off was quite straightforward, the Government mechanisms needed to jumpstart it post-Covid-19 need to be equally robust.

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