Welsh family farms must not be left to cultivate butterflies

Martin Thomas



Martin Thomas, who sits in the House of Lords as Lord Thomas of Gresford, is our Shadow Attorney General. I mentioned his title because he hails from a small town near Wrexham and has been actively involved in Welsh politics since the 1960s.

So who better to call out Andrea Leadsom’s bizarre assertion that farmers with “big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies”.

In a speech in the Lords last week he said:

It is with a fine sense of irony, mingled perhaps with some contempt for farming interests, that [as Head of DEFRA] the new Prime Minister has appointed Mrs Leadsom, a lady who campaigned for the leadership of the Tory party on the basis of her experience in finance in the City since 1984.

In 2007, Mrs Leadsom demanded that farm subsidies be abolished. That would not be good for food production and for the environment, and it would lay waste upland Wales.

Then came the comment, just before the Referendum, about the butterflies, to which Martin responded:

Hello sky! Hello trees! Hello grass! Hello butterflies!

The average net farm income for all Welsh farm types, as estimated by the Welsh Government’s Knowledge and Analytical Services Department, declined between 2014 and 2016 by 25% to £13,000 per year. Such falls in income have already had catastrophic effects on the 60,000 people employed on farm holdings in Wales and on the vast numbers of secondary businesses which are reliant on the industry. In Wales, EU support amounts to £250 million per year in direct payments to farmers, together with a programme of investment of some £500 million over the 2014-20 period.

Before the referendum, Mrs Leadsom said:

“The UK government will give you the same money when we leave the EU”.

Yesterday, at the Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells, George Eustice, the Farming Minister, told BBC Wales that the Government cannot guarantee that future agricultural support programmes will be as generous as current EU subsidies. Let us contrast that with his statement during the referendum campaign that Welsh farmers would get “as much support” as they currently do if the UK left. Brexiteers said, “We don’t need subsidies—the markets will provide”. Let us see whether Mrs Leadsom’s financial expertise can deal with the supermarkets which have no regard for the maintenance of the farming industry so long as they can keep prices down.

Welsh family farms are not to be left to cultivate butterflies. They have a critical role to play in producing food to the highest standard. They have to face up to the challenges in upland areas of climate change. They are the custodians of the countryside. Their farms must never be laid to waste.


Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in News.


  • Graham Neale 25th Jul '16 - 9:41am

    Farmers have long known their ‘business model’ is flawed.
    They also know the environmental damage caused by meat and dairy, and that the UK population pays twice for their food; once with the taxes, and again at the till.
    Now they are holding the environment hostage, demanding more money, or the ‘planet gets it’.
    Agricultural subsidies serve to inflate land prices, simply handing our money to land-owners – it’s time to break the cycle of dependency!

  • Simon McGrath 25th Jul '16 - 10:53am

    Is the best use of £250m a year really subsidising a tiny number of welsh hill farmers. why not save the money (or spend on something useful) and ( with proper support to switch careers) let the farmers do something else ?

    isnt cheap food something that our party used to be quite keen on in the fight to repeal the Corn Laws and stop tariffs on grain imports?

  • It’s always struck me as rather strange that most farmers tend to be right wing and politically opposed to ‘socialism’ and ‘government interference’ – except to when it comes to their own subsidies.

    For a start I would put a cap on the threshold of support on the richest farmers. For example,

    The Queen claimed £686,000 in subsidies from Brussels in 2014 through Sandringham Farms on her Norfolk estate. The Duke of Westminster, who is among Britain’s richest men with a personal fortune of £8.5billion, claimed £914,000 for his Grosvenor Farms, Tesco’s biggest milk supplier.

    Sir Richard Sutton, who inherited a 6,500-acre estate where he farms wheat, barley, peas and beans, claimed more than £1.8m in 2014 though his family company. His family is worth an estimated £160m.

    The family of Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary enforcing a £12 billion raid on welfare payments, has also benefited from taxpayer funded farm subsidies. They own Swanbourne Home Farms which claimed £159,000 this year alone.

  • Peter Bancroft 25th Jul '16 - 12:02pm

    The farming system is clearly broken if the average farm makes a net income only marginally above minimum wage for a single person.

    Do we have any plans for how to change this? If not, we surely know that subsidising increasingly loss-making industries only causes larger social issues when the dam eventually breaks.


  • Tom Papworth 25th Jul '16 - 12:33pm

    “that farm subsidies be abolished… would not be good for food production and for the environment, and it would lay waste upland Wales.”

    One of the few arguments in favour of a non-elected House of Lords is that members are not wedded to vested interests. How doubly sad, therefore, that Lord Thomas of Gresford should argue in favour of a system that taxes rich and poor alike so as to direct money at a small group of landed interests who are unable to run a commercially viable operation.

    I voted Remain, but I hope if we do Brexit we will take the opportunity to tear up the Common Agricultural Policy without replicating it at a national level.

  • Tony Greaves 25th Jul '16 - 1:39pm

    Some sad metropolitan types here! Without the farmers our wonderful upland landscapes would turn into scruffy wasteland and the tourist industry for one would collapse (for instance in Cumbria – with the Lake District at its heart) – tourism contributes ten times as much as farming to the local GDP. Without the hill farmers the Lake District would be destroyed. The same in upland Wales.

    Tony Greaves

    PS I love the idea that members of the House of Lords are not “wedded to vested interests”. The whole place reeks of them!

  • Happen to agree with you there, Tony, especially given that one of my grandfathers was a hill farmer in the Pennines who worked all the hours that God sent.. plus a few more..

    My point (if you read it) was that there should be a threshold cap on the figure to eliminate the high rollers. IDS was quick enough to claim his £ 159,000 at the same time the Coalitionists in our party were helping him to crack down on benefits. As for the Duke of Westminster………………. and H.M………………. One law for the rich etc,.,

  • In the West Midlands/Lincolnshire area almost every farm had signs of the “Let’s Take Our Country Back” variety….
    I heard that the day after the vote a phone-in call from a farmer was along the lines of “What about our subsidies?”

  • Graham, Simon and others
    > UK population pays twice for their food; once with the taxes, and again at the till.

    The population pay what the supermarkets charge, not what the producers get. Perhaps all the fuss over supermarkets paying farmers less per pint of milk than it costs to produce have passed you by?

    >Agricultural subsidies serve to inflate land prices, simply handing our money to land-owners

    Yeah, because all farmers own their land, don’t they? Except the few thousand who do are outweighed by the many who don’t.

    Farmers don’t want subsidies, they want a fair price for their food.
    Of course, if you’d rather the UK became even more dependent on imports, and don’t have an issue with consequences such as food air miles, or rainforests being flattened to farm beef…
    Thousands of small and family farmers have quit in recent years and many more are struggling. Buying more machinery to improve production costs a fortune, and increased production pushes down farm gate prices anyway, so that’s no solution.
    But yeah, of course there a billion alternative jobs available in places like rural Wales for farmers and all those whose livelihoods are linked to it. Or not. If may have escaped your notice, but we’re still blighted, jobs-wise, by the closure of the pits in the 1980s.

  • Graham Neale 26th Jul '16 - 10:19am

    The population has already paid farmers an average of £25k per farm per year before the food reaches the shops – as liberals this is an anathema. With milk production, we have an entire mature industry propped up with tax payers’ money. There is no incentive for producers to diversify, when they are getting payments to continue the status quo. They have become the supermarkets’ subsidy slaves.
    The fact that subsidies tend to inflate land prices primarily benefits land owners; tenant farmers are victims of this as much as the consumers – it’s time to support tenant farmers, by breaking the subsidy and land price inflation cycle!
    I think the fact that farmers are accepting the payment cheques tends to suggest they do indeed want subsidies. If you know of any that return the payments, please let me know. As for rainforests (and well done for introducing the broader environmental impact of UK farming), let us remember that most cattle in the UK is fed imported grain – I know the Meat and Dairy Industry lobbyists portray ‘grass-fed’ as the norm, but its a fallacy – even ‘grass fed’ stock is overwintered with grain. People who are concerned about rainforest might want to stop eating Meat and Dairy products, as 80% of soya grown in former rainforest land ends up inside cattle.
    The government has a duty to help farmers get off the treadmill that is intensification. The Agricultural lobby is massive, but we need to resist vested interests, and offer farmers a way out of their dependency.
    The green-house gases from the Meat and Dairy industry exceeds that of all transport on this planet, yet we continue to pay tax-payers money to the industry. Many of the costs of the industry are externalised, yet politicians don’t seem to have the vision to move forward, blinded by their lobbyist.
    The scrub-land would soon be replaced with forestry, ‘climax vegetation’, with the productivity and diversity that brings, along with more leisure options and wealth.

    We have another chance to assess the economic, environmental, social and health impact of farm subsidies, but I fear reasoned debate will be stifled by those with fond memories of farming, or by the cynical self interest of lobbyists.

  • Tom Papworth 26th Jul '16 - 10:46am

    Tony Greaves supports the CAP.

    What more evidence do you need that it’s wrong?

  • >I think the fact that farmers are accepting the payment cheques tends to suggest they do indeed want subsidies. If you know of any that return the payments, please let me know.

    I said ‘don’t want’. I didn’t say ‘don’t need’.
    Forests have their place, IF properly planted/managed, but is the demand high enough for timber? It needs to pay its way. How do you make it pay in the years it takes to establish?
    Diversification isn’t a new idea. It is subject to the vagaries of the global market anyway. Demand for dairy has plummeted of late, but for a while, it was soaring and perceived as the saviour of farming.

    Do you want (‘leisure options’) to turn the countryside into merely a playground for tourists? Is the demand sufficient to make it pay anyway?

    The state already subsidises rail travel, bus services (via councils) and employers across a swathe of industries (tax credits so they can pay low wages, rate relief, relocation grants etc). Necessary evils, I fear, given the alternatives.

    The ‘way out of dependency’ would be higher farmgate prices. Do you want dearer food? Cheap food effectively subsidises our low-wage economy, so maybe you do?

    As for ‘fond memories of farming,’ it’s damn hard work and can be totally heartbreaking (funeral pyres during foot & mouth, for instance).

    Good luck getting everyone to go veggie!

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Jeff
    Michael BG 20th Feb '24 - 1:23am: The Brexiteers thought the EU would not stick to its rules regarding trading with the UK. No rule breaking w...
  • Martin Bennett
    Entering a coalition is inherently perilous for us. In 2010 our vote was divided between convinced Lib Dems, anti-Labour voters, anti-Tory voters and protest vo...
  • Alex Macfie
    Ian Patterson: We were never even in contention in most of the Blue Wall seats we are now targeting. Previously safe Tory seats are now ultra-marginal, and that...
  • Nonconformistradical
    @Mohammed Amin Believe it or not some local objections might actually be valid. Such as a proposal to build in an area which might increase flood risk. Do yo...
  • Mohammed Amin
    I think the journalist John Rentoul deserves a trademark on QTWTAIN (questions to which the answer is no.) I have no objection to self-build for those with t...