Friday, 2 March 2007

Farm subsidy - and all that jazz

From time to time Farmers Weekly has skulked on the kitchen table, with headlines like "the cloud behind the silver lining" telling you all you need to know about this pessimistic publication. To suggest it is a chronicle of whingeing, carping and hand-wringing would do most editions justice. I may, however, have gained an insight that might temper my view a little. These days, farm subsidy (now the Single Farm Payment or SFP) is no longer for production. The days of supporting, indeed encouraging, butter mountains and milk lakes are long gone, and to qualify for subsidy you need to be farming in an environmentally friendly way that conserves the countryside for all. Not popular with all farmers, it will contribute in a small way to improving the environment for flora, fauna and traditional landscape features on our farm. At least it would, if the process of communicating with the body that handles the SFP left me enough energy to get on with the farming. The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has got to be one of the most infuriatingly bloodpressure raising organisations I have ever had the misfortune to deal with. When they get your reference number, address and all other details apart from your name wrong, you write and expect it to be sorted. When, nearly two years and countless email, telephone and snail-mail communications later you are still trying to get all of this most basic of information corrected, patience wears desperately thin. When you get letters (to your ex-address) containing profuse apologies and helpful souls on the phone saying it's all been sorted, you dance about the place like a loon thanking your lucky stars (in that cloudless sky) that you might have finally secured a few hours back in your week. When you find yourself swearing at the poor messenger on the end of the phone because you just can't believe the incompetence of the system has ballsed up yet again, you know that something has got to give - now it's your sanity versus theirs .
As contributors to Farmers Weekly are highly likely to be dealing with the RPA regularly, it's not surprising that the tone of the magazine can leave you checking every gift horses mouth and poking at the silver linings for grey, claggy misfortune.

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