How does basic income support farmers?

The issues:

  • Farming, as a business, takes many forms, including family farms, privately owned small-scale growing, membership-based Community Supported Farms (generally known as CSAs), worker-owned cooperatives, and large-scale farms owned by consortiums. Yet the trend in national and EU policy is to prioritise agribusiness and associated large-scale intensive farming. This intensive, large-scale farming increases carbon emissions, can be too intensive to be good for animal welfare, and is focused on export of farm produce, to the detriment of self-reliance in food
  • Farm incomes fluctuate, especially on small farms, due to the cyclical nature of farming and to changing market prices for produce, feed and other inputs. Farmers traditionally relied on bank overdrafts to smooth out the ups and downs, but these have become almost impossible to obtain
  • Low-income farmers with dependants can apply for Farm Assist, but this is a means-tested payment (for incomes under €15,000/year), takes up unproductive administrative time and, like all means-tested payments, disadvantages those whose cases are marginal or not clear-cut
  • There is a pressing need for reform of CAP subsidies. The current round of CAP reform disadvantages smaller marginal farms and works against the diversity and bigger farming population that is required for an intelligent food future. Many farmers operate without subsidies, either from a principled objection to them, or because they do not qualify. Cash-flow difficulties are especially severe for them
  • Newcomers trying to start a farming business find it extremely difficult to get finance, as lenders consider them a risky proposition. Land prices are high, and land difficult to acquire, especially in small parcels. Direct payments to the farming sector via CAP drive up land prices
  • Only about 7% of the Irish population is involved in farming. Yet the most ecology- and animal-friendly way to increase food security is to have more people involved in a range of less intense ways of farming and growing, and exploring new ecologically sound farming technologies
  • The farming population on traditional farms is ageing and there is a dearth of young people coming into this type of farming. Many older farmers work alone on their farms and experience isolation and loneliness. At the same time, many young people want to get into farming, especially organic farming and other ways of growing, using newer and more ecologically sound technologies
  • While farming is primarily rural, there is a need to support urban and suburban growing, community gardens, allotments, horticulture, etc
  • The status of farmers is low among many sectors of the population. Many people see farming (especially on small farms) as an unrewarding occupation. Added to this, many landless city dwellers resent subsidies paid to parts of the farming sector.

How Basic Income can help:

  • Basic income gives all business models of farming a chance to develop, including middle-sized and family farms, CSAs and cooperatives. It supports rural, suburban and urban farming. See self employment section here for more.
  • Basic income enables partnerships, which can alleviate the loneliness currently experienced by many farmers
  • Basic income smooths out cash-flow problems for farmers, especially those operating without CAP payments
  • Basic income helps more people to get into farming and growing and to define themselves as farmers or growers, generating a wide range of social and environmental benefits. It allows older farmers to retire or step back from a farm business and supports younger people to get into the occupation, possibly in partnership with an older farmer
  • A basic income system provides an independent income to everyone in farming households, not just the head of household, giving them a genuine choice about whether to engage in the farm business or not. (Children’s basic income is paid to the parent or guardian.
  • Basic income supports farmers pioneering new, ecologically sound, low-carbon and resilient farming technologies capable of adapting to the variations in weather caused by global warming. These new technologies also enable production on land that is currently considered marginal. All of this adds to food security
  • A basic income helps those who are attached to their locality to create a satisfying life and community in their home place. Even if they are not directly engaged in farming, they contribute to a social and economic environment within which farmers and farming can thrive
  • A basic income empowers farm employees, in common with all other employees. See employment section here for more.
  • Basic income is fairer than CAP as a policy for supporting farmers.

What a basic income will not do:

Basic income cannot solve the problem of high land prices. It will not resolve all the problems of rural life, such as transport, communication difficulties and isolation. On its own, it cannot ensure public commitment to intelligent agricultural practices or to food security and sovereignty. A cultural and educational shift will be necessary to encourage more people to participate in farming, growing and food preparation. But a basic income system could play an important part in addressing some of these issues.