Memory lane could lead to a sad future
1:40pm Friday 25th March 2011 in Comments
I recently took a trip down memory lane, or rather the lane that led to the dairy farm where I spent most of my childhood.
When we reminisce, many of us are guilty of enveloping our childhood memories in a rosy glow, being selective with our recollections.
But I do know that the farm was at its prime when we sold it to move to a bigger holding in Pembrokeshire. It had been drained, cultivated and fenced within an inch of its life. There was barely a blade of grass out of place.
Our children were keen to see where mum had grown up, so on an icy day in the Christmas holidays we bundled into the car and headed for Felinfach.
The gate dividing the lane from the public road was closed when we arrived, but undeterred, we abandoned the car and set off towards the farmyard on foot, me attempting a vault like the 11-year-old I was when I left the farm.
I was looking forward to being gently propelled back in time, but instead I was catapulted with force into the future – a future that we might get if more small farms are forced out of business.
Both the house and the farmyard buildings were in ruins. The fields were thick with reeds. There wasn’t a soul around, either human or animal. I don’t know if the farm had been abandoned for economic reasons or through neglect, but either way there were very few buildings left standing.
In this case I think the farm was bought as an investment, but had barely been farmed in the 30 years since we left. But it was a reminder of the difficulties experienced by many small family units in Wales without sufficient income to reinvest.
The president of the Farmers’ Union of Wales, Gareth Vaughan, suggests that the abolition of direct farm subsidies would devastate farm businesses in Wales and lead to the abandonment of large swathes of farmland.
He wants the Government to support the continuation of direct payments and market protection policies until measures are in place to ensure fair returns for primary producers.
Some farmers believe the single farm payment should be abolished, arguing that it is possible to be profitable without subsidy.
It would be nice to farm without subsidies, but at what cost to the smaller farm lacking the economies of scale to operate profitably in an industry controlled by the retailers?
A supermarket ombudsman is long overdue but it now looks likely that one will be in place next year.
This represents the future, hopefully a future when farmers will be in a position of strength. My own journey had been an attempt to revisit a time gone, when family farms were profitable, but it left me feeling that in some cases memories are best left where they belong, in the past.