National Union of Farmers wants more of your money!

Falling self-sufficiency means Britain produces less than two-thirds (62%) of the food the country consumes, down from 75% in 1991, the National Farmers\’ Union said.

If all the food produced in the UK in a year were stored and eaten from January 1, the \’\’cupboard\’\’ would be bare by August 14, the NFU has calculated.

Thank goodness for trade, eh?

And let\’s think this through a little more shall we? If London had to rely upon the food grown in London then by which day of the year would it run out? Jan 3 perhaps? And if Lincolnshire had to rely upon the food produced there, when would the tatties run out? November two years later maybe? And no, there is no difference at all between inter and intra national trade in food.

We can go further too. My household would run out of food on Jan 1 if dependent upon household production of food. And there are many households that would run out of badly formulated rants about matters economic on Jan 1 if they were forced to rely upon their own home production of that good and or service. And no, there is no difference at all between inter, intra national and household trade in such matters.

Given that we have discovered trade, indeed there are those who insist that trade was discovered before homo sapiens sapiens strode the Earth, it does seem somewhat foolish to worry about what would happen if we had not discovered trade.

Farmers are calling for support from politicians, the public and food industry to back British farming and help them produce more.

Oh Aye, give us yer money?

\’\’Right across the board farmers have a fantastic natural capacity to produce more British food, given the right market signals and the confidence to invest. We have the right technologies to produce more from less, with precision farming helping to target fertiliser and crop protection products within centimetres.

Ah, yes, raise prices to us!

\’\’Laser technology can even pinpoint an individual weed, improving accuracy and efficiency. Crops grown under cover help to lengthen the season for our British fruits.

\’\’But there is more to do to empower our farmers to enable them to make the most of our natural resources and feed our growing nation.\’\’

He urged the Government to help create an environment where farming businesses could invest, to address market failures and iron out price volatility to ensure the food chain can increase supplies.

Yup, prices up please!

Sadly, they rather miss the point that if pries of UK grown food rise then trade just becomes more attractive, doesn\’t it?

16 thoughts on “National Union of Farmers wants more of your money!”

  1. Only it’s “NFU” and not “NUF”.

    Cut their subsidies and they’ll have to produce more.

    Reintroduce Agricultural Rates and cut their income tax and they’ll produce even more again (compare the amount of food grown per unit area of land on allotments with the amount grown in fields).

    Tim adds: Yes……National Union of Fascists is NUF.

  2. “compare the amount of food grown per unit area of land on allotments with the amount grown in fields”

    That has to be one of the most economically illiterate statements seen on this website, and we’ve seen a few doozies.

  3. “Sadly, they rather miss the point that if pries of UK grown food rise then trade just becomes more attractive, doesn’t it?”

    Your missing the next logical step…..Bring back the corn laws!!

  4. I dunno, maybe I am a rampant communist.

    But I like the idea that we can feed ourselves in the event of a war stopping trade, though I suspect as we all eat to much, we probably produce more than we actually need and some.

    So I don’t really care either way.

  5. “That has to be one of the most economically illiterate statements seen on this website, ”
    It’s hard to see why. Increase the cost of the land but reduce the cost of the labour. More labour intensive agriculture would increase yields. (See allotments as an extreme.) It’s just a change of incentives.
    Whether it would be wise, is another matter.

  6. Surreptitious Evil

    But I like the idea that we can feed ourselves in the event of a war stopping trade

    Given the variety of our trading partners, nowadays, and that we are still an island, I suspect that in the event of the sort of war that would actually stop trade, running out of food is not actually going to be most significant worry for most people.

  7. But I like the idea that we can feed ourselves in the event of a war stopping trade, though I suspect as we all eat to much, we probably produce more than we actually need and some.

    When I started reading this blog many moons ago Tim had a mantra “if goods don’t cross borders, armies do”. Countries with strong trading links rarely go to war with each other.

    You might want to spend your life eating basic veg and going hungry when crops fail, like last year, but I suspect most people when given the choice would go for the variety and security provided by trade diversity against the slim risk of war if they give it some thought.

  8. We don’t need complete indigenous food security. That said, I really wouldn’t want my food security entirely in the hands of Robert Mugabe. So perhaps some spending on ensuring there is some agriculture in Europe, the expertise doesn’t get lost completely to cheap third-world imports. From a national/political perspective, in trade, it is actually useful to be able to take both positions depending on what else is going on in the world.

    Perhaps Tim knows a real econononomist’s name for the concept?

  9. “More labour intensive agriculture would increase yields”

    No it wouldn’t, thats the whole point. You can’t scale up the labour intensiveness of an allotment to farms of 1000s of acres, unless you want everyone to be subsistence farmers. There isn’t a sliding scale of intensiveness vs yield – take a farm of X acres using Y labour, double labour to 2Y and see yields rise by z%. It just doesn’t work like that. Once you go from ‘everything done by hand’ (the allotment system) to ‘using machinery’ the game changes, and increasing labour on the same acreage just adds extra cost at no extra yield gain. One man and a tractor can farm x acres. Add another man and the yield is no higher.

    And I’m not even sure that the yields are that much greater per acre for allotments – most vegetables grow no better on an allotment than in a 10 acre field. I hazard a guess that a dedicated potato farmer produces just as many potatoes per acre as a allotment holder for example. A 50 acre field of wheat is just as productive by area as a 10m2 plot. And then there’s livestock – don’t see many of them on an allotment – is production of meat going to increase under increased labour intensity? If so how? Does a cow produce more milk, or have more calves in a herd of 2 or 3 than in a herd of hundreds?

    Don’t forget also that all that labour put into an allotment isn’t costed into the cost of the food produced. Thats why the argument is so economically illiterate. Its saying ‘We can produce lots more food/acre using more labour, as long as we ignore the cost of that labour’

    We might indeed be able to feed the entire nation on less land than we use now by giving everyone a little plot of land and telling them to get on with it. We might not get much else done in the meantime though, as effectively we’d have dropped to African subsistence levels of economic activity, as we all dug our plots, sowed our seeds, weeded our veg, fed our few cows, pigs and chickens, and harvested and stored our produce. Not a great deal of time and people left free to build cars, drive trains, run shops, look after the sick or educate children once we’ve all out in the fields grafting away is there?

  10. I was astonished when I started growing a few tomatoes and courgettes in tubs that an economically-literate family member suggested that I’d save a bit of money by so doing. I countered that, even if you didn’t factor in the time spent, they are probably the most expensive food I ever eat, give me less than 1% of my annual nutritional requirements, and I’d be better off using the cash for a slap-up meal in a three-star restaurant.

    The random effects of various diseases, weather and so on make it a completely nonviable option in terms of cash saving, unless you have the land, expertise, free equipment to hand, and especially time.

  11. “More labour intensive agriculture would increase yields”
    Note there that I didn’t mention cost. More labour intensive can indeed mean higher costs. Which is why changing the incentives would change the relative costs.
    And in agriculture,more labour intensive does increase yield. We pick our oranges as the fruit ripens. We’ll be cropping those trees over a period of months, gathering the individual fruit as they reach peak condition. Oranges the size of grapefruits. Commercial growers pick the whole tree in one or two passes. So our productivity per tree are way higher than theirs. But our costs, if we were bothered, would be way higher too.

  12. “And in agriculture,more labour intensive does increase yield”

    Not in all areas of agriculture is doesn’t, particularly if you are already at the high capital intensity end of it. An arable farm might farm several 1000 acres with perhaps 3 or 4 full time employees, and a capital investment in machinery in excess of 7 figures. Doubling the amount of labour will have zero effect on yields as there’s nothing for them to do. The same amount of work might get done quicker, the hedges will be tidier, the field margins cut more often, the ditches cleaned out every year, the whole place look like a park, but the yield of cereal per acre will be the same. Because there’s nothing an extra man can do to a 100 acre field of wheat to increase its yield, given the mechanised system in place to farm it.

    If on the other hand you have a labour intensive system already (such as veg production) then yes, there could be a yield increase with extra labour, but considerably less than the labour increase.

    Given the UK has a capital intensive farming sector, with low numbers of workers/acre, slightly reducing the cost of labour vs the cost of the land will make no difference. Its the cost of capital vs labour you’d have to alter, and by a massive margin ie make it more efficient to have 100 men with scythes cutting corn than one man in a combine, ie a return to c. 1930 levels of labour intensiveness.

  13. Sorry Jim but you’re starting from the position that increasing the labour applied to non-intensive labour farming won’t increase production. Well, of course it won’t. The crops & the methods are chosen for low labour input.
    I just checked UK wheat yield & it’s 0.84Kg/m3. That’s around enough flour to bake two loaves. Yield for potatoes was 4.5 Kg/m3. Feed a family for nearly a week. So simply switching from cereal to potatoes increases food production fivefold. Potatoes being substitutable for wheat as a staple. But being more labour intensive, growing potatoes rather than wheat could increase the cost of providing that staple. Hence the cost of the labour is the determinant.

  14. “more labour intensive, growing potatoes”

    Do you know how potatoes are grown nowadays? They don’t get touched by human hand certainly. Its all machinery, from cultivation to planting, to spraying, to harvesting, to grading. I repeat – UK agriculture is highly capital intensive and adding extra labour inputs does not increase yields, unless you abandon the mechanised systems, and revert to predominantly manual processes, where an increase in labour input CAN affect yields.

  15. “Do you know how potatoes are grown nowadays?” Commercially? Only from watching them from the window from our place in France. Farmer does wheat as well. And there’s definitely more work involved in spuds than grain. So he tells me. We’ve grown them here as well. Although we must get more like 10Kg/m2. But we’ve got a wonderful climate & of course, it’s all done by hand.

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