GOVERNMENT support for farmers ‘will need to be enhanced’ if farming is to remain ‘viable’ in the Island, according to the Economic Development Minister.
Deputy Kirsten Morel also said that the government was committed to ensuring that the Island farming community should retain the capacity ‘to provide the basics – dairy products, eggs, meat and vegetables and salad crops – albeit on a limited scale’, after concerns about food security were raised and supermarket shelves were left bare in the wake of poor weather conditions that disrupted Condor’s freight sailings.
The revised Rural Support Scheme, which forms part of the Economic Framework for the Rural Environment, came into effect at the beginning of the year.
It aims to encourage practices that improve the Island’s food security and persuade new people to take up farming by providing direct financial support to those in the sector.
Over the course of this year, £3.3m is available to local farmers. This amounts to less than 0.5% of government expenditure.
Deputy Morel has now admitted that further support is needed for local farming to remain ‘viable’ – which means being able to provide a ‘viable’ source of food.
He said: ‘This figure (just over £30 per capita) is substantially less than the financial support provided to farmers in the UK and EU. The industry is more productive, has improved global supply chains, uses technology to drive efficiencies, and has reduced margins for farmers and producers, but the support which we currently provide will need to be enhanced further if farming is to remain viable on the Island.’
In November 2022, it was reported that in the previous year the UK government provided up to £96 per person and £159 per person in the EU.
While the revised RSS has only been in place for under three months, Deputy Morel said: ‘We are seeing an increase in the number of businesses engaged and are making a direct positive impact on a number who are focused on supplying the local market with home-grown produce.
‘We have already demonstrated that we now have the right set of tools to deliver, measure and adapt our policies in a manner which will ensure the right outcomes for the Island.’
He added: ‘That being said, to really meet the challenges, the available budget will still need to increase. The good news is that investment can ultimately grow tax revenue for the Island as the sector already makes a positive contribution to the Exchequer.’
Deputy Morel assured farmers that profitability was still possible: ‘Though margins are tight, and costs are still increasing at a faster rate than market returns, and without adjustment of our local support mechanisms, our rural economic ecosystem is very fragile.’
Earlier this year, Jersey Dairy said that profitability ‘remains a challenge’, and Guernsey Dairy announced it would make a loss of more than £500,000.
Woodside Farms in Trinity, which supplied 80% of local vegetables in the Island, also recently closed, ending a 135-year family farming tradition. At the time, Jersey Farmers Union president Peter Le Maistre said Islanders would feel the loss. ‘Obviously, it reduces food security because we lost our biggest vegetable producer,’ he added.
Deputy Morel said: ‘We are looking to encourage a diverse range of smaller-scale local businesses which, over time, will be able to replace some of those product lines lost – and add others. We are also working with local retailers to explore opportunities of connecting into local supply chains to ensure local produce arrives on our shelves.’
He explained that while the Island would never be able to achieve self-sufficiency, ‘an important part of any food security plan is to ensure the community is able to secure the ability to produce some food and at least, in part, be able to provide the basics – dairy products, eggs, meat and vegetables and salad crops, albeit on a limited scale. We are committed to ensuring we retain this capacity’.
The effort to bolster Jersey’s food resilience is two-pronged, and alongside increased support for local farming, the government is working to improve supply lines.
Deputy Morel said: ‘An officer group is working on the resilience of Jersey’s economic supply chain. While Jersey is well embedded in the UK’s supply chain management and emergency-planning structures, our supply chain goes well beyond the UK. Current levels of supply have proven to be adequate.
‘However, the government continues through its emergency planning, risk and business continuity functions to keep risks to the supply chain under constant review.’
He added: ‘We are working to develop a southern supply chain, which will add to Jersey’s food security as well as providing other benefits to consumers.’
In January, industry heads raised concerns over the Island’s ‘chronic resilience vulnerabilities’ and the lack of engagement with stakeholders in the government’s efforts to combat supply-chain and resilience issues.
Local organic farmer Brian Adair has also recently said that increased support for local farmers, and especially organic agriculture, would help ‘solve the Island’s food supply problem’. He further argued that there were more effective alternatives to monetary support, such as verbal support, limiting importation, and changing the way help for farmers is calculated.