The Shed has just read another report on the plight of the dairy farmers which adds nothing to the hundreds of previous reports on the plight of the dairy farmers The Shed has read and contributed to in its collective experience. And to its surprise, The Shed finds it has an agricultural policy.
The central problem of the milk market is that surpluses from all over the world are powdered and sold as a cooking product at clearance prices in Rotterdam and that sets a low fallback price which the dairies cannot afford to ignore.
It is possible to produce milk very cheaply, not by using cheap labour so much as by industrial investment, turning genetically engineered cows into static digesting machines. They produce a huge amount of shit as well as milk but dealing with piles of shit is cheaper than buying and using enough land to disperse it. So big investors can make little profits on lots of milk at prices which mean a little loss on every litre for farmers who do it with small herds wandering between field and barns twice a day.
For various reasons, we are inclined to think we want milk from cows which have laid in grass on a sunny day sometimes, and we are probably right to.
The Shed proposes a Milk Board, which was never as bad an idea as it is now considered, which would subsidise a quota of drinking milk produced to a set of standards which include grass feed, welfare measures and no use of antibiotics. The only way to achieve the standards, in effect, would be with extensive organic-style farming with intensive labour input.
The same principle of payment for productivity with conditions could be applied to the subsidising of lamb and chicken and beef production – a headage payment for every animal which meets government-set standards of health without intensive medication.
Of course, the farmers would fiddle the system. But even with careful policing, it should deliver more money to the grass roots of farming, so to speak, than, for example, the elaborately contrived conservation targets which currently keep sheep on the hills.
The whole idea is probably illegal because of EU rules, but that is a matter for another day.