Focus on Farming from DCRF

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The full report can be downloaded here.

The summary is below:

Summary

This discussion does not represent an exhaustive overview of farming in Devon today, but covers some of the concerns and policy issues raised by members. For further information on any topic, or a wider overview, the organisations referenced by members will be helpful. Links to these have been collated on our DCRF website here

Pastoral Concerns - Mental health issues, including depression and suicide, continue to affect farming families. Factors affecting farmers include:

  • Loneliness and isolation, exacerbated by the loss of livestock markets as natural meeting places
  • Continuing suffering of animals and farmers through TB
  • Financial concerns
  • Succession planning
  • The increasing vegan movement

Some aspects of farm economics were discussed including:

  • Specialist markets - some farmers have managed to move from selling at a loss to profit through moving into specialist markets, however whilst this is helpful for some, the challenge of viable mass food production remains.
  • Global commodity price fluctuations, quite outside an individual’s control, can sometimes have a greater influence on profitability than issues either under the farmer’s control, or influences from national government policy.
  • Farm workers as well as farmers themselves need to be considered. So many farmers are now working solo that the number of jobs available for farm workers has decreased considerably, reducing locally available work, a factor in rural sustainability.
  • The costs of regulation can be high, both in the direct cost of systems and processes and time required for “paperwork”.
  • Brexit continues to be a cause of great uncertainty for farmers, and uncertainty for any business is difficult.

Four wider areas affecting the farming environment were discussed:

  • Post Brexit Farm Subsidies -  Public Money for Public Good. The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove has said that the CAP is flawed and that public money should be spent on public goods – for example increasing access to land, environmental actions etc. – however, we might ask “if producing food is not a public good then what is?!” Links to recent speeches and policy announcements are available here.
  • Soil Matters - soil erosion is one of the biggest issues facing the world. It has been widely reported that at the current rate of erosion the world has only 60 harvest left (from 2015) and no soil = no food. The “headwaters of the Exe” land management project was discussed as an example of what can be done. Again, further information and links are available here.
  • Natural Capital – Natural capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. The concern is that in using up these resources faster than they can be replenished we build up debts of social and financial liability as well as ecological in food poverty, reducing sustainability for communities, population displacement and more. The work of Dieter Helm of Oxford University on “Natural Capital” underpins much government thinking. Further information available here.
  • Food Poverty and Strategy - Food Poverty – while farmers are unable to make a profit and producers are moving to niche markets, many people do not have access to good quality local food. Devon has a Food Strategy and we have an opportunity to feed into this via Martyn Goss.

Church Responses and Discussion

  • John Wibberley spoke about a Christian approach to food and farming being to look at profit as a by-product of doing the right thing – such as caring for the soil. Right values lead to right vision – and without vision the people perish (Proverbs 29.18). From vision can develop new sustainable ventures.
  • The church and the diocese of Exeter own a significant amount of farmland. Could we be thinking about how this land is to be used in terms of sustainable planting, planting forest, access to the countryside, helping people to reconnect to creation and impacting mental health?
  • In terms of direct pastoral care, the FCN is always willing to support church based pastoral care groups to understand the needs of farming families, and to train people to become FCN volunteers themselves. We need to remember that many issues that concern farming families will be extremely confidential and sensitive and that specialist pastoral care may often be needed, often provided by someone who is not a near neighbour. The FCN also facilitates suicide prevention training for rural groups.
  • Opportunities for farmers to meet naturally have decreased with the loss of several livestock markets. The churches have in the past facilitated setting up “farm groups”. What can be done to support meeting opportunities today?
  • A wider, supportive framework is very valuable – with listening and getting to know first-hand the concerns of our farming community concerns a priority. Through listening various exciting initiatives can emerge through churches, communities and farming networks working together.
  • There are various community food networks connecting suppliers, farmers and consumers including people living in food poverty. It would be helpful to collate information on the different networks in order to contribute to the overall food strategy for Devon. Further information on
  • We spoke about possible things the DCRF itself could facilitate in support of our farming community, for example:
    • Farm visits for clergy and encouraging church pastoral care teams to receive specialist training from the FCN in pastoral care for their farming community.
    • Additional resourcing for harvest and other farming festivals.
    • Exploring the idea of a “Devon Farming Business Strategy” bringing together people and organisations to look at the whole food and farming landscape including natural capital, food and farming product marketing.

We agreed to reflect on the write up from this meeting as to what this forum might be able to do – both personally – as individuals and churches – and at a more strategic level to take some of these issues forward and discuss at the next DCRF meeting in May.


Food and Farming Policy, Projects, Experimentation
Webpage icon NFU Response to Government post Brexit consultation
Webpage icon Overview of Global Water & Fisheries Issues
Webpage icon Food Strategy
Webpage icon Natural Capital
Webpage icon Soil Matters
Webpage icon Public Money for Public Goods
Webpage icon Agriculture: Brexit VISION to 2040
Webpage icon Just Food? Food & Farming for a Sustainable Future
Webpage icon Food Ethics and Future Food
Webpage icon Dispersed Rural Food Banks
Webpage icon Food