THE government has pledged to reverse a 20-year decline in financial support to farmers to make sure that supermarket shelves are not empty – and encourage young Islanders from non-farming families to enter the industry.
Economic Development Minister Kirsten Morel highlighted next year’s spending plans, including an extra £1.5m of support for the sector, and said that more money would be available after that.
This is on top of £400,000 of emergency funding given to dairy farmers in September to counter a ‘perfect storm’ of threats, including this summer’s drought, the war in Ukraine’s impact on fertiliser production and rising costs, including an increase in the minimum wage.
Speaking at the annual Jersey Farming Conference yesterday, Deputy Morel said the government recognised the importance of farming to the Island’s food security.
Jersey Farmers’ Union president Peter Le Maistre and Christine Hellio, of Manor Farm in St Ouen, recently stressed the importance of having locally grown produce in the wake of extreme weather conditions disrupting ferry sailings.
A new Economic Framework for the Rural Environment, published in May, sets out a new mechanism for funding, based on producers being able to demonstrate a clear benefit to the public in what they do.
Deputy Morel told the conference: ‘We are proposing in this year’s Government Plan £1.5m in additional support for the rural economy in 2023, more than half of which has been found since July.
‘This will bring the government’s total support for this sector to over £3m for the first time in over a decade. That’s less than 0.5% of government expenditure but it represents a big step forward.
‘We are still well short of comparable jurisdictions, but it does reflect my commitment to begin correcting the downward trend in support we have seen in recent decades.’
The minister also mooted the possibility of ring-fencing funds for agriculture as a percentage of total spending, as the government has done for heritage and arts, but he conceded that there was resistance in the Treasury to this, because it could lead to money sitting in a pot unused. Two per cent spent on agriculture equates to £9m a year, three times more than the £3m to be spent next year.
The Economic Framework also promises extra support to encourage new entrants into farming, possibly through help to meet the high capital cost of entering the sector, as well as promoting roadside stalls and helping smallholders to supply local produce alongside the large commercial growers.
Dairy farmer Andrew Le Gallais, who is also chairman of the Jersey Milk Marketing Board, said that the industry needed to better mobilise to make sure that public money was well spent.
He told the conference: ‘In my opinion, the time is now right to explore the creation of new ‘compacts’ or ‘covenants’ between like-minded farmers and government.
‘This would not be in a prescriptive manner as perhaps the Milk Marketing Scheme, but in a way that gives the government the confidence to articulate with and sustain groups of responsible and unified farmers who meet its aims and objectives.’
He added: ‘In our hour of despondency, now is the time to deliberate and organise ourselves for a genuine sustainable future.’