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Why Britain needs a million new farmers The pandemic has boosted once-fringe ideas about ditching city life to go back to the land

Could smallholders put paid to industrial farming? Credit: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Could smallholders put paid to industrial farming? Credit: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images


August 25, 2020   9 mins

As with so many other aspects of British life, Brexit represents both a promise and a threat to British farming. As a genuine revolutionary moment in British politics, the decision to leave the EU offered a historic mandate to overturn a failing political and economic settlement, for which the European Union was a convenient symbolic stand-in. And yet, as the political scientist Philip Cunliffe notes, Brexit was a stillborn revolution, a spasm of popular revolt without a competent actor to utilise the moment for revolutionary ends.

For farmers, the potential risks and rewards of the moment are stark. On the one hand, withdrawing from the Common Agricultural Policy affords the possibility of reshaping the entire system of subsidies on which much of British farming depends, and which has turned the rich arable fields of Britain’s eastern counties into an endless sterile prairie, almost devoid of animal life and human employment.

On the other hand, the loss of subsidies, coupled with the glut of cheap meat and dairy produce that will follow a tariff-free trade deal with New World agricultural superpowers, threatens to wipe out what remains of Britain’s small livestock and dairy farmers in the wet western uplands.

But on the fringes of British farming, a quiet revolution is taking place. Though farming is generally thought of as a conservative occupation, a radical agrarian populism is developing among a network of thoughtful smallholder-writers which seeks to utterly transform Britain’s relationship with the land, and with the food we eat.

Inspired by peasant movements in the developing world, and by Britain’s long history of rural radicalism, these agrarian populists want to overturn a half-century of agricultural industrialisation, turning back the clock to the early years of the 20th century, before the combination of wartime need and post-war subsidies drove the near-total industrialisation of British agriculture, and the consolidation of small family farms into vast corporate holdings.

The sociologist and smallholder Chris Smaje, whose intriguing book Small Farm Future will be published later this year, notes that as a result of the collapse of the neoliberal economic model and a growing awareness of the looming threat of environmental disaster “a contemporary agrarian movement has arisen which has a lot in common with the agrarian populist and neo-populist movements of a century ago, emphasising self-reliant, low impact, low energy, land-based lifestyles, a fair distribution of resources, greater political autonomy and so on.”

Centred around publications like The Land magazine and organisations like the Campaign for Real Farming, this nascent movement demands, in the words of farmer and writer Colin Tudge, the total reordering of British farming around a model “almost diametrically opposite to the kind that successive British governments have been promoting for past 40 years — high-input, high-tech farming on units as large as possible with minimum to zero labour, geared to the global market, and producing only what is most profitable.”

Britain’s current farming model is broken, and the perverse incentives it derives from subsidies causes farming to fill a strange and contradictory place in the British psyche. Simultaneously romanticised and ignored, farming is, like cookery, more a middle-class spectator sport than an activity. Less than 2% of the British population is employed in agricultural labour, one of the smallest proportions in the entire world. 

The result is a two-tier system where large landholders in East Anglia rake in huge profits for grubbing up hedgerows and poisoning their land with industrial chemicals, while small farmers in the uplands find their incomes driven down by the handful of supermarkets who control the nation’s food supply, and are buckling beneath an epidemic of bankruptcy and suicide. The nation’s wildlife is on life support, as insects, birds, small mammals and fish find their habitats destroyed. And all the while, Britain’s population is among the fattest and least healthy in the Western world, with the highest consumption of industrially-processed food in Europe. 

Instead of this broken system, Tudge argues, “Britain could do with a million more farmers,” recruiting them from “people who are currently driving taxis or checking income tax or working in call centres, if they have a job at all.” The end goal would be to rebalance British farming around widely-dispersed networks of small producers and away from the supermarket system, combining “low-input farming (organic is at least the default position) with mixed farms (where feasible) with emphasis on agroforestry, usually in small-to-medium-sized units, with plenty of skilled farmers and growers, feeding primarily into local or regional economies.” 

A de-industrialised form of farming needs huge amounts of labour to work small plots intensively, replacing vast holdings tended by occasional casual labour and giant machinery with, essentially, a giant work-creation scheme consisting of an army of new smallholders tilling their own land. As Tudge notes, “no other industry is remotely capable of employing all the people who need jobs. Furthermore, it is the only industry that could employ large numbers of people usefully: constructively rather than destructively; not as serfs but in truly satisfying careers.” 

But farming itself, in this model, would be only the core of a wider rebalancing of the economy towards the production of food— which after all, we all need to eat — and away from the consumption of imported, inessential manufactures. “If we need a million new farmers,” Tudge argued in his 2016 book Six Steps Back to the Land, “we also need a commensurate number of distributors and small-scale processors — local bakers; cake makers; micro-brewers and vintners; small butchers and charcutiers.” Unplugged from the enforced centralised system in which five supermarkets corner 80% of the market, this localised economy would spread wealth around the country and provide secure and satisfying employment for millions of people. 

This rebalancing is already happening on a small scale. Covid has led to rapid growth for Community Supported Agriculture schemes for vegetables, and the new renaissance in micro-dairies presents a viable and attractive alternative to the over-centralised system where six conglomerates control 93% of British dairy processing, and dairy farmers find their margins squeezed and livelihoods ruined by supermarket price gouging.

On the international scale, Tudge argues, “all nations should strive for self-reliance in food — at least producing enough of the basics to get by on — and exporting food only when the home population is well fed, and importing only what is truly desirable and cannot reasonably be grown at home.” This call for food sovereignty, which may have seemed eccentric only a year ago, is now being made even by the conventional farming lobby, with the National Farmer’s Union urging the government to use Covid as a “golden opportunity to place food security at the centre of our food system and become a global leader in sustainable food production,” placing British farming at the centre of a “green recovery”. 

Tudge’s vision is a bold one, and owes much to Britain’s centuries-long tradition of agrarian utopianism. But is it unrealistic? At the very least, it is striking that this discourse derives from a sophisticated critique of the West’s current economic settlement. Unlike many European countries, in Britain the popular link with the land was severed early by the Industrial Revolution and the parallel enclosure of common land, eradicating the English peasantry as a class and driving them into the new manufacturing centres of the cities.

For two centuries, Britain was the world’s industrial superpower, its manufacturing might driving imperial expansion abroad and fostering the creation of a radicalised proletarian class at home, the origins of the British labour movement. Our current political system is still ordered around the political economy of the 19th century, even as the industrial economy that birthed it has evaporated. In the long years of Britain’s post-war industrial decline, the neoliberal settlement, introduced by Thatcher and elaborated by every succeeding government, aimed to wean the British economy off manufacturing and replace it with one based on financial services and debt-fuelled consumption. 

In 2020, the failure of the neoliberal gamble is clearly apparent. The second financial crisis in just over a decade looms on the horizon, dooming millennials, now entering middle age, with the prospect of an entire working lifetime without secure employment, assets to call their own, or the means to raise families. Just behind the Covid crash there is the spectre of automation and AI, which threatens to wipe out what remains of skilled labour and much of the already-insecure white collar economy.

It is safe to say that Thatcher’s experiment failed, and it threatens to bring down conservatism with it. Instead of a nation of prosperous conservative homeowners, Britain will soon be left with an embittered army of 40-year-old casually-employed baristas sharing squalid and overpriced rental flats and increasingly ready to embrace destructive forms of radical politics.

In his 2016 book How Will Capitalism End? the German political economist Wolfgang Streeck, an orthodox Marxist of a distinctly conservative bent, claims that that we have entered a period of extended political and economic disorder, where the old order is failing and yet nothing viable has appeared to replace it. “Contemporary capitalism is vanishing on its own, collapsing from internal contradictions,” he writes, but “what comes after capitalism in its final crisis, now under way, is, I suggest, not socialism or some other defined social order, but a lasting interregnum
 a prolonged period of social entropy, or disorder.”

Engaging directly with Streeck’s hypothesis, Smaje suggests that as a result, “something like Detroit may soon be coming to a sleepy English village near you”. Reading the entrails of the present for a vision of the near future, where “chronically growing debt, stagnant growth and rising inequality” are “gnawing away at the vital organs of the global capitalist beast,” Smaje predicts that “national and individual incomes in most of the rich western countries will decrease along with the volume of international trade,” that the state’s “de facto power outside its core regions (in England, London and the South East) is likely to wane as the ratio between public service benefits and tax income becomes ever more unpromising,” and that “the returns to large-scale commodity-crop farming and large-scale land ownership outside the state cores will diminish to the point of redundancy.”

In this situation, Smaje argues, one of the least destructive outcomes would be to “buttress wherever possible any or all permutations of peasant, family-based, small-scale, local market oriented, diverse and high nature-value farming,” making a virtue out of necessity and slowing the descent of his envisaged economic collapse.

This is a starker vision than Tudge’s, with echoes of the collapse of urban civilisation and the dwindling of state authority in late antiquity. Is it possible? Covid has revealed a startling level of incapacity at the heart of the British state, which does not bode well for the gathering wave of shocks. Covid will certainly accelerate the decline in incomes, and, as in the United States where urban professionals are fleeing the big cities to work from home in more congenial surroundings, the urban renaissance of the neoliberal era may be succeeded by a period of urban decline, bringing with it a reduction in tax revenue and increased social tensions.

Certainly, the financial crises in Greece and now Lebanon have led to young urban professionals, whose middle-class livelihoods were suddenly destroyed, fleeing back to the land to work in small-scale farming operations, some of which became successful businesses. Where the UK differs is the degree of popular estrangement from the land, and the significant barriers facing new entrants to farming in the form of the high, subsidy-fuelled cost of land.

Some mitigation to these barriers can be found in The Land magazine’s manifestos for a radical agrarian farming policy, proposing to cap subsidies to allow small-scale farmers to prosper, erect tariffs on farming produce in any future trade deal, and redirect subsidies towards environmental and social goods, so that the loss-making sheep farming of the uplands would be replaced by “sensitive afforestation for quality timber and fuelwood, renewable energy, land improvement, hill crops, local-scale horticulture and dairying, land management for wildlife and water conservation, ecotourism and rewilding,” and recentring the planning policies of the urban Green Belts around “small farms, market gardens, dairies and forestry enterprises providing fresh local food for city-dwellers”.

Elements of this vision can be seen in DEFRA’s proposals to rethink British farming for the post-Brexit era, which, especially under Michael Gove’s tutelage, made promising noises about supporting small family farms and channelling subsidies towards environmental goods, but details are scant. On top of this, the urgent need — politically if not economically — for a free trade deal with countries like the United States threatens to undo whatever modest good the Government is planning in a flood of cheaply-produced, sub-standard industrial produce from abroad.

Similarly, the argument of eco-modernists like George Monbiot that we should further industrialise food production while rewilding the margins is no meaningful solution: instead of eating slop produced in factories and hiking in the deserted hills now and again, nature can be returned to the British countryside as a whole, along with a satisfying and wholesome life for millions of people, by returning to the pattern of small mixed farms with light ecological footprints that predominated in this country just half a century ago, the merest blink in Britain’s farming history.

The British economy, and the state which manages it, now has to cope with three near-simultaneous shocks that threaten to destabilise it as never before in our lifetimes: Brexit, the economic crash brought about by Covid, and the possible break-up of the United Kingdom following a Scottish independence vote, now more likely than ever. Each of these represents a threat to the social and economic order, yet also an opportunity to rebalance British society and the economy in a fairer, healthier and more productive way. 

Rethinking farming will not be the answer to all of Britain’s problems but, on a small scale, modest investment coupled with visionary thinking could do much to repair a world that is already in crisis, and to create a sustainable, resilient and satisfying way of life across Britain’s regions, reviving depressed local economies and mitigating the economic shocks to come.

Not everyone can become a farmer, and certainly not everyone would want to: but as one step towards rebalancing the British economy to spread wealth and financial security across the regions, restore the nation’s damaged ecology and soften the coming economic blows, the radical localist agrarianism of Britain’s farming revolutionaries offers an attractive pitch to a Conservative government searching for new ideas. 

 


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

A provocative essay Mr Roussinos, may I put the case for the other side?
A 900 acre arable farm, in say East Anglia, receives a pathetic public subsidy of about £90K pa, under the ‘Single Payment’ system.
For seven months of unremitting toil, under a leaden East Anglian sky, where the east wind is ” like a wetted knife” and all the way from Omsk, that is derisory.
Additionally you have enough mechanical paraphernalia to maintain, that could otherwise be used to equip a Panzer Division.
The only real benefit is Inheritance Tax Relief (IHT), which ensures your children and grandchildren will be ‘shackled to the plough’ forever.
The other meagre respite is to be found in those five glorious months, that can be devoted to that greatest of all English pastimes, Bloodsports! On an epic scale, probably not seen since the halcyon days of Ancient Rome, and now also under threat from deranged urbanites, who view the countryside through the miasma of Beatrix Potter.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

‘The other meagre respite is to be found in those five glorious months, that can be devoted to that greatest of all English pastimes, Bloodsports!’

Ah yes, hunting remainers, socialists and Guardianistas! I love it.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Yes, these are exciting times, with plenty of sport of all sorts of different varieties.
A golden age, one might say.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Why not sell the farm to Aris? He’s raring to g(r)ow.

And if the east wind is so powerful can’t you grow some of those wind turbines and profit from the particular subsidy racket? (If you have too much integrity to do that, I commend you).

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Yes those wind turbines are very tempting, I gather Cameron’s father-in-law has some. From the rental of even one, you can send a boy to Eton.
However I agree with you they are an absolute abomination that desecrates the English landscape like no other malignant structure. They are the all too visible symbol of the Great Green Hoax, that is proselytised by cretins such as Greta Turdberg, the “Swedish Eco Goblin” and many others.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Presumably coal powerstation cooling towers are not an abomination and don’t desecrate the landscape then?

Your sense of aesthetics is subjective to say the least.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

Well, they are static and don’t move for one thing. The human eye is a hunter’s eye and is attracted by movement. Hence the unique visibility and ugliness of Wind Turbines.

Anyway isn’t this all a bit anachronistic, as Coal Fired Power Stations and their Cooling Towers are on their way out? Let’s go Nuclear and be done with it.
We are not that idiotic old fraud the USSR, if you take my meaning.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Hence tilting at windmills?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Possibly!

Daniel Hake
Daniel Hake
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Nuclear power stations have cooling towers too.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Daniel Hake

None near Arcadia fortunately.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Daniel Hake

Actually can you name any UK Nuclear Power Station that still has any of those enormous, hideous, hyperboloid towers, because I can’t?

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Why should such a farm receive public subsidy at all?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

Because farmers are the “Custodians of the Countryside”.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

That’s a laugh. Agricultural land is hardly wilderness, and it drives out wildlife (that which you’re not slaughtering for ‘sport’). There’s very little real, natural countryside in a lot of the UK.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

Well, there are odd hills, such as the Grampians, but yes we are grossly overcrowded and it’s getting worse.

Off course we could try “wilding” the whole place. I gather there has been a very successful experiment on a two thousand acre farm in Sussex, for example.

Perhaps that and C-19 would have some very beneficial results as far as population management/harvesting go?

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

I would ask to define ‘natural’ countryside?

With the exception of some more recent changes to hedgerows to allow for larger machinery, the agricultural landscape is broadly the same as pre-Roman times in the UK.

Although, more rare animals existed outside of these areas and in the forests and uplands (wolves, boar etc).

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

“..the agricultural landscape is broadly the same as pre-Roman times in the UK.”
Truly?
I would have thought that more land would be covered by forests?!

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Apparently not the case I was also surprised to learn as a side aspect of my undergrad degree – I think it was a myth perpetuated by the Victorians that the land was far more forested in the pre-industrial and even pre-medieval era. The advent of pollen graphs have somewhat debunked the myth since.

Pollen studies in Kent, Sussex, East Anglia etc point to an overwhelming consistency of land being a mix of arable/wooded lands for millennia, and many of our current field boundaries have existed since at least the immediate pre-Roman era.

I may stand corrected on other wider parts of the UK – but those were specifics I remember as part of a broader trend

Gerard Havercroft
Gerard Havercroft
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

The nature of modern agricultural inputs and the ability of the modern farmer to Blitz everything but the crop he wants means it may look the same but underneath the land is turning into a sterile growth medium rather than a lush ecological system thriving on the strength of its biomass and and teeming life

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

It shouldn’t. But you could say the same of many things including wind turbines and other energy scales, almost all the so-called ‘arts’ and the vast majority of the ‘charity sector’. If I had my time again I would have hopped aboard one of these rackets at an early age.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
3 years ago

I wonder if Aris has ever worked on a farm or allotment? It is physically hard work, requires your presence at all times (if you have animals) or most of the time (arable) and is subject to the vagaries of the weather, pests and diseases, especially if going down the organic route. I’d be interested in seeing the trading accounts of some of the smallholders he cites as exemplars. I suspect that any surplus to pay themselves a wage or distribute in dividends is very small – and certainly a long way below the minimum wage when divided by the hours worked. This form of living could only be sustainable for most people if they had an alternative source of income, or an existing fortune off which they could live. I’m not against the vision he sets out, but I just don’t think it is realistic on anything like the scale the headline suggests.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Oh please, spare us this nonsense. I can see Aris now, loading his small and manky crop of green beans on to the 19th century sail boat he was eulogising the other day. And by the time the boat reaches its destination the beans will be has-beens.

Yes, the EU’s CAP is evil but the likes of Aris love the EU so they can’t complain. The fact is that the EU exists to benefit large landowners and large banks and corporations. And still the likes of Aris defend it…

Meanwhile, in one trip to a market or supermarket I can get all the fruit and veg I need for a week, for three pounds or so. And it takes about 20 minutes, all thanks to the efficiency of modern farming. On these small farms that Arils is romanticising, hours of work would produce enough vegetables for perhaps one meal.

I have long seen it as a trade off. Yes, the landowners receive completely immoral and unjustified subsidies from an evil EU. But I get a supply of plentiful and cheap fruit and veg. Yes, I know that many of the people on the farms are immigrants working for very low wages, but most of them (like those working n the garment factories in Leicester) should not be in the Europe or the UK anyway, so they can’t really complain.

Simon Burch
Simon Burch
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

To me, this piece is merely an anti-captitalist polemic masquerading as an article about farming reform (it even includes the phrase “Contemporary capitalism is vanishing on its own, collapsing from internal contradictions”). It’s a shame because I think Aris makes some valid points, especially with regard to the impact of industrial farming, the destruction of the natural environment and our tendency towards over-consumption.

Stephen J
Stephen J
3 years ago

You can guarantee that if there are socialists leading this posited small farm renaissance, it will end in abject failure, just like everything else that is of that ilk.

James Blott
James Blott
3 years ago

I find it depressing that so few people have any understanding whatsoever of our countryside and even want to share their ignorance with the outside world by writing articles like this. Has the writer ever visited the countryside?

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago

Aris writes well and persuasively, but then it doesn’t take much for ruralist-romantic followers of William Cobbett like me to be persuaded. And as one who lives amidst the dismal, monocultural agri-plains of East Anglia, I’m all for this. However, it’s difficult to see how we can achieve such a rebalancing without a huge transfer of land ownership, while also avoiding centralised Soviet or Socialist-type solutions, which can only lead to poverty and famine. Perhaps the model should be something like the Land Settlement Act (1919), which allowed local authorities to buy farmland and rent it out as smallholdings? Giving the little platoons of micro-farmers the right to buy in due course? The main thing is to keep it local.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

The usual load of anti-capitalist wishful thinking. Then this:

‘It is safe to say that Thatcher’s experiment failed…’

No, Thatcher’s return to a few tried and trusted free-market fundamentals saved the country. It was not an experiment, and it worked. Sadly, as discussed yesterday, she did not have time to take on Britain’s eternally grasping and incompetent state bodies. It was the total financialization of the economy under New Labour (in the UK) and Clinton (in the US) that failed.

Anyway,, good luck with achieving national self reliance in terms of food on an over-populated island with thousands more coming in every day. And good luck with paying for accommodation, energy, council tax, BBC tax, clothing, transport and all the rest of it by growing a few vegetables in an unpredictable and often malign climate. The truth is that we will need intensive and ‘vertical’ farming more than ever. And that’s great, because it means I can feed myself for a week with about 15 minutes of work.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago

Smaje suggests that as a result, “something like Detroit may soon be coming to a sleepy English village near you”. Reading the entrails of the present for a vision of the near future, where “chronically growing debt, stagnant growth and rising inequality”

Much of rural England (and wider Britain let’s not forget) has long been killed off to a certain degree. Limited public transport, fewer job opportunities, closure of most local shops, banks etc, exacerbated in some areas by over-inflated house prices from richer people choosing second homes in the more picturesque and easy-access rural retreats.

There’s a reason why many rural areas have some of the worst (certainly per capita) drug, crime and unemployment issues in the country. Seems like Smaje hasn’t been paying attention at all.

The solution isn’t to go back to the future with idealistic visions of a UK-wide hippy commune.

Remote working has never been more feasible, and with the correct application of technology and investment, farming has never been more efficient. We can adapt to provide a greater portion of our own needs without massacring our prospects and future generation’s prospects. Move away from a purely urban economic model without reverting to some rose-tinted deleted scene from an ITV Thomas Hardy adaptation…

Liz Davison
Liz Davison
3 years ago

Some of the wishful thinking here reflects what is happening in France already. Many people of all classes and political persuasions are keen to buy locally-sourced produce. It’s no more expensive than the other French stuff but is a bit pricier than equivalents from Spain. But the choice is on a small scale, if popular. I think the supermarkets who stock some of it run it as a loss-leader to encourage shoppers to buy it with their other big shop items instead of visiting one of the several roadside stalls run by local growers.

Of course growing this produce is water-intensive which is why Spain’s rivers are running dry, but in Britain many items could be grown and help to drain rivers which would burst their banks due to lack of dredging. Sitting in the south of France we’re constantly amazed at the drought warnings and water restrictions in a country which overall has much higher rainfall than we do down here and yet we have fewer restrictions. And then in the autumn, winter and spring towns get flooded. What is wrong with planners in Britain? Why don’t they build more reservoirs?

My other concern would be finding affordable housing for all these would-be farm workers since only a few will be landowners with a proper farmhouse and outbuildings.

This is an interesting article but is a bit light on practicalities. Would voracious British supermarkets willingly sell local produce at a price which would please shoppers and return a decent profit to the grower? There’s a lot more public pressure here for such initiatives.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Liz Davison

What is wrong with planners in Britain? Why don’t they build more reservoirs?

Partly topography I believe – although might be corrected by someone more knowledgeable.

The South-eastern half of the UK is one of the flattest and driest parts of Europe, and amongst its most populous. And even the more hilly areas are a lot less dramatic than most other European countries.

Robin Taylor
Robin Taylor
3 years ago

As you correctly point out, prior to “the Covid crash there is the spectre of automation and AI which threatens to wipe out what remains of skilled labour and much of the already-insecure white collar economy”. Covid will definitely hasten the decimation of employment in the West. Inefficient and often more labour intensive companies will go to the wall; if and when new ones crop up they will more likely employ new technology than labour. Incomes for many, tax revenues & social welfare will all be badly hit. This was the prospect prior to Covid, but now, after a few weeks of lockdown, we are seeing hundreds of people applying for one supermarket delivery driver job. Yet, the worst of the fallout is still to come; there will be many more insolvencies and redundancies in coming months.

The most depressing thing however has been the lack of acknowledgement across Western economies about the increasing impact of automation & AI let alone having any sort of strategy for dealing with it. Even if the Government doesn’t positively support the sector, the young may well start to embrace small scale farming simply because there will be fewer alternatives. It has already started happening in the rural community where I live and the quality of the food they are producing is second to none. Anyone with the energy to ‘give it a go’ should get our support because there are certainly difficult times ahead for sure.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin Taylor

Get rid of all the absurd and vindictive Covid restrictions and we will soon be back to full employment.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Even if you think the restrictions are absurd, things aren’t going back to “normal” any time soon.

The commuter culture has taken a torpedo, millions realise they don’t need to go to the office, and company managers begin to realise they don’t need to pay for one. This will destroy a big piece of central London’s consumer culture and heavily impact commercial real estate. These things aren’t going to be the same.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I don’t think so; plenty of people have discovered that they can do the same job from home. No need to schlep 90m every day to office and back home.
May be they can spend 2/3 days in the office per week.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
3 years ago

Another article which is high on emotions, but low on logical thought.
The country had this argument 170 years ago, with the repeal of the Corn Laws. Although the protectionist EU has rather muddied the waters.

There are two choices make farming all bucolic and a lovely place for towns folk to visit, or feed the people.

As I do not wish to starve, I know which side I am on.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

“Although the protectionist EU…”
Since EU trades with the rest of the world under WTO system how can it be protectionist? More of EU international trade is covered by FTAs than other similar “countries” (USA, Russia, China, India, Japan etc.)

Matt K
Matt K
3 years ago

Lead the way then Aris…

Or similar time next week for the next lot of essays? What will it be this time?

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Matt K

Probably something about weaving our own underwear from thistles.

James Evans
James Evans
3 years ago

“a radical agrarian populism is developing among a network of thoughtful smallholder-writers”

Yes… call me an awful old cynic if you will… but “smallholder writers” don’t sound (to me) like the kind of people to bet the farm on. So to speak.

It’s lovely that trendy metropolitan types want to pretend to know what soil is, but I’m not totally sure that they realise that you can get dirty from touching it.

Still, let’s hope that the next theory on “how to grow things that people want to eat” is as entertaining as this one. Perhaps the eager beavers at the Polytechnic of Islington will come up trumps again.

malcolmwhitmore18
malcolmwhitmore18
3 years ago

Aris makes a clear proposal to address the big problem that Government faces and is misunderstood by most of the corres[ondents who take the short term view of the crisis we are in.
The crisis of underemployment for the population has been foreseen for many years and Aris makes the only feasible proposal that I have seen. Technological progress has reduced the amount of work needed to survive and the system of governing by increasing the GDP has brought us to the twin crises of Climate Change and the destruction of the natural world and turning the job prospects for an increasing proportion of citizens an alternative between serving in the local pub or commuting to London to manage people serving in the pub.
The fundamental problem is that without jobs the government cannot control the population and the prospect of civil breakdown becomes real.We are at that point now with the pandemic making it more acute.
The Chancellor is looking for creative answers to his problems this is the solution that he should prioritise.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

if UK GOV does sign those trade deals with USA, Can, Aus, EU etc. most farmers will go bust.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

Nice summary of the Land Movement in the UK at the moment. I’m fairly acquainted with many of the people you reference and whilst I don’t always agree with their Progressive politics, I think their heart is in the right place and unlike many of the Tory libertarians who seem to comment here these days, they do acknowledge the looming human growth crisis.

Hence their strategy is to create national resilience, sustainability and sufficiency from the bottom up and should be commended as they seek to readdress the balance between the needs of humans and the needs of the rest of Nature. Their view is one of creating anew within the old system so yes they can be annoying Marxists at times but they are successful at what they do.

Other organisations that need a mention are the Landworkers Alliance, the Ecological Land Cooperative and FarmHack which helps to train new entrants.

I live on my allotment (unofficially) as a demonstrator model of low impact urban living and I grow most of my perishable food needs which also requires food preservation. I’d say, averaged out over the year, then food self reliance is a part time job including soil cultivation, fertility, propogation, preserving. It is relentless work and so is not ideal as a goal orientated lifestyle where you can finish a project with a good rest. It is constant throughout the year depending on the agroecological conditions.

The biggest barrier to small scale farming is planning, not land as such. With some English councils like Shropshire more lenient and will fast track sustainable development initiatives, but overall England is very backward in this regard. Wales of course has its One Planet Development (OPD) planning rules but are currently out of favour with locals who see English migration a threat to their culture, land and house prices.

The ideal is that the new national planning framework will incorporate a less onerous form of OPD and allow temporary dwellings to be erected along the lines of Scottish hutting regulations. My shed is fully insulated, built from recycled timber and anything else I could find in skips and is a solid structure that is built off the ground which will easily last a hundred years or more. The roof, the prime weakness of any temporary dwelling is ply board and rubber sheeting with the recently added extra protection of a cut to size marque canvas and large pieces of multi layered felt that I scavenged from a derelict shed.

Easily the most gratifying aspect of this back to the land lifestyle is the emergence of an ecological consciousness that evaporates the modern boundaries of ecology and culture.

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Will D. Mann
Will D. Mann
1 year ago

Livestock farming, especial poultry and pigs but increasingly beef and dairy is now a largely industrial process where animals kept in sheds are fed on grain and soya, most of which is imported from Brazil, USA and Canada. Today’s typical diet contains far more meat and dairy than before WW2.
Good farm land is expensive, over ÂŁ10,000 per acre. Smallholdings ( with accommodation or planning permission) ÂŁ1000, 000 +. Any one considering taking up farming will need a considerable amount of capital
Food is cheap in comparison to the costs of production. To make a living on a small farm one needs a high value niche product to sell to more affluent middle class customers who often live in urban centres long distances from places with affordable smallholdings.
Finally one must consider the total land mass of the UK divided by population works out at about 5 acres per person ( not taking into account areas of mountain, bog, towns and cities)

The vision for farming in this article is feasible, maybe even necessary if we are to survive and feed ourselves through the coming crises but it won’t be achieved without government encouragement and ( probably most controversial) a huge reduction in the meat and dairy component of our national diet.