A SENIOR backbencher, who is a former potato and oyster farmer, is pushing the government to commit to spend 1% of its total expenditure on agriculture and fisheries.
Deputy Steve Luce, an ex-Environment Minister who now chairs the Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Scrutiny Panel, argues that the two industries ‘are on a proverbial knife edge’ unless they receive more support from taxpayers.
The St Martin and Grouville representative has lodged a formal proposition, which will be debated in the Assembly next month.
If Members back his proposal, Deputy Luce estimates that central support for farmers and fishers will increase from £2.4m given last year to £11.5m per annum.
Making his case, Deputy Luce said: ‘Farming, both dairy and arable, is at a point where further reduction in numbers, and contractions in size, will render the industry unable to continue commercially.
‘The number of fishing licences has reduced massively in recent decades, as has the stock of seafood available to be caught.
‘This proposition seeks to commit the States to provide guaranteed financial support for both industries into the future, something which has been sadly lacking from past governments. Without this commitment we will surely be looking at a different future, one potentially without commercial farmers and fishermen.’
He added: ‘It may have been said before but farming and fishing, Jersey’s oldest industries, are on a proverbial knife edge.
‘In the past 20 years alone, we have seen arable farm numbers decrease from over 200 to barely double figures. The herd numbers of our Jersey cows – of which there were around 1,000 in 1954 – have fallen from 198 in 1982 to today’s level of only 12.
‘The total number of boats in our fishing fleet has reduced from 328 in 1996 to just 114 in 2021, down more than two-thirds. Fishers are continuing to leave the industry.
‘If these trends continue then the export, and local, markets will very likely collapse due to lack of a viable supply, and those farmers and fishers that are left will have little future.
‘How have we got to this position? How have we allowed such traditional industries to wither on the vine? Is it too late to act?’
The Deputy’s proposition compares the financial support given in Jersey – £32 per head on agriculture and fisheries in 2022 – to the more generous support in the UK (£52) and European Union (£118).
He also lists the benefits of the continuing prosperity of the two industries, including food security, management of the countryside, marketing local produce, and providing a sense of island identity.
Last year, the government launched a new Rural Support Scheme to provide new targeted support and increased funding in 2023 to £3.2m.
In January, it also launched a £300,000 Marine Sector Support Scheme to allocate financial credits to fishers based on their environmental and social impacts.
Fixing spending as a percentage of total revenue expenditure is not a new concept for the Government. It has been obliged to allocate 1% to arts and heritage each year since 2019 after a successful backbench proposal from Deputy Montfort Tadier.