20 June 2001

Responses to the crisis in farming

No one can dispute that many farming families are facing a crisis. There have been four years of depressed incomes. The pictures of the mass culling of herds and disposing of the carcasses have brought home to everyone, rural and urban alike, the pain of farming today.

A paper to be discussed at the Methodist Conference will encourage Methodists to take practical steps to support the work of farming families by:

  • Patronising Farmers' Markets or Box Schemes.
  • Campaigning for local supermarkets to stock more local produce.
  • Purchasing only seasonable goods.
  • Expecting to pay more for the privilege of purchasing local produce, like purchases of many fairly-traded goods.

The paper, Farming Today, written by the Chair of the East Anglia Methodist District, Rev Malcolm Braddy, also suggests that Methodists engage in the national debate on the future of farming, encourage the phased reduction of farming subsidies, empathise with the needs of small farmers and enquire about the choice of possibilities of land management in their locality.

The paper argues that the Common Agricultural Policy is in need of reform and subsidies need to be phased out over a period of time. It goes on to ask what is the prime purpose of farming: "Should it be for food production? If it is, should the enterprise be extensive and large-scale or small-scale and diverse? How can small farms be defended?"

Imaginative schemes for helping farmers are commended. These include Farmers' Markets, which now number about 300 nationally and where farmers can sell produce directly to the public. Farmers' box schemes allow a local producer to contract to supply a household or neighbourhood with homegrown produce each week. Organic farming and produce is also recommended.

Religious values suggest that support should be given to "shortening the links in the food chain" and "exploring alternative ways of agriculture" as well as reassessing attitudes towards shopping.

The Methodist Conference 2001 takes place at Ipswich Town Hall from 23-29 June.

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