A surplus is the agricultural produce, which remains over, what is not required for the purpose in hand. These surpluses, which recently are frequently occurring in the developed world, are due to intensification of farming, government support and the EU’s CAP. The CAP was set out in the Treaty of Rome at a time when high agricultural productivity was considered essential to securing plentiful food supplies.
CAP has five basic aims which are to increase agricultural productivity and improve self-sufficiency, to maintain jobs on land, improve the standard of living of farmers and farm workers, to stabilise markets and to keep consumer food prices stable and reasonable. One of the prime beliefs underpinning agricultural policy was that Europe should become as self-sufficient as possible in food, almost at any cost. Crops that saved on imports, such as sugar beet for tropical sugar cane and oil-seed rape for tropical oil palms, were given financial support.
A complicated set of mechanisms were put in place to encourage farmers to farm more. As farming in the EU became more efficient, output increased. Farmers were paid subsidies or a guaranteed minimum price for their produce. This meant that farmers were encouraged to grow more and tended therefore to over produce. Although, food surpluses are needed for trade to take place, the issue is the unit cost at which the surpluses are produced. This led to the infamous cereal, beef and butter mountains, and milk and wine lakes, which are due to the huge surpluses.
The EU was encouraging farmers to convert their land from extensive to intensive uses. This was achieved by using new seeds and improved breeds of animals, using new crops not previously grown in the area, changing fro livestock rearing to crop growing, improving disease control with pesticides and insecticides, using inorganic fertilisers, education about good practice e. g. rotation, soil conservation and improving water control. All of these factors allowed the greatest output possible from the land. As there was such a vast output, over production is more likely to occur.
Also, farming was extended to land thought to be ‘marginal’ by developing new strains of seeds more tolerant to ‘difficult’ physical conditions, e. g. in cold areas, seeds that can tolerate a shorter growing season and in dry areas, seeds that are more drought resistant. Also, offsetting the effects of problematic physical factors e. g. in areas of unreliable rainfall supplying irrigation water. This intensification of farming, by making the land produce more by increased inputs and efficiency is one of the main causes of agricultural surpluses.
Land improvements such as drainage and reclamation were supported, as also was the amalgamation of farms. Small holders were encouraged to retire early or give up farming to allow more efficient scale operators to take over. Farms have steadily increased in size through amalgamation enabling ‘economies of scale’. Farming became a business, hence the term ‘agri-business. This is a trend that is occurred throughout the world to industrialise farming. Large companies began to dominate food processing and food production.
Manpower has steadily declined, from about two million farm workers in 1800, to one million in 1900 and down to a quarter of a million in 2000. Machinery has taken over. Much large farm machinery is no longer farmer owned, but hired from contractors, thereby allowing business practices common in other industries. Although most land is still farmed by individual farmers, what they grow and how they grow it is influenced by outside business interests. Contact farming is a system where farmers agree to sell their produce to food companies.
For example at Holmebrook Farm, near Tamworth, the farmer has a contact with McCains to supply 800 tonnes per year of Maris Piper potatoes. Also, large farmers, banks, organisations and companies with interests in food products such as The Co-op, Findus and Birds Eye bought up fields and farms as they came on the market. Another form is factory farming. This is the name sometimes given to capital-intensive livestock production. It usually involves zero grazing and includes methods such as battery cages for hens and chickens, veal crates for young cattle and pig stalls for sows and piglets.
Farmers claim that these systems are the outcome of consumer pressure for increased production and lower prices. Agri-business means that more produce is created for a cheaper price therefore surpluses are likely to occur as fluctuations will occur in food bought. A classic example is when BSE occurred in the UK. Here, the EU Commission banned all beef exports from the UK and beef consumption within Britain fell sharply. This meant that vast amounts of beef were unable to be sold.
BSE is a classic example of the dangers of industrialised farming, showing the impact it has on land use, farmers and food consumption. For centuries British agriculture was dominated by mixed farming with crops grown and livestock kept on every farm. Now farmers specialise; the eastern half of the UK is more predominantly arable than it has ever been. On many farms a maximum of four or five crops are grown. This specialisation means that farmers can focus on their certain crop and produce vast amounts of this.
This again may lead to surpluses being left. Agro-scientists developed new varieties of seed suited to British conditions, which has aided the intensification of farming. Today much of the wheat and barley grown in England is winter wheat, which is ready to be harvested earlier and gives a higher yield per hectare than many of the old summer varieties. Friesian cows give higher milk yields per animal than any other breed. Aided by selective breeding from the best stock, they are the only breeds kept by the great majority of dairy farmers in the UK.
Research by scientists employed by agro-chemical companies has led to the development of chemical fertilisers and pesticides for particular needs, so that crop yields keep on reaching new peaks while crop losses to diseases and pests keep falling to new lows. All these methods of intensifying farming may lead to overproduction again producing surpluses. Therefore, surpluses have become more recurrent recently due to factors stated above. Due to the global shortage of farming land and the increasing world population, people have tried to bring more land into cultivation and increase farm production from current farming land.
This meant that farming became more intensified which government support and the EU’s CAP helped. This intensification is the main cause of why agricultural surpluses have become a regular feature in many developed countries. To what extent have the benefits derived from such surpluses been outweighed by the costs? (15 marks) Surpluses are seen by many to be a beneficial factor, as it seems in the short term to overcome the problem of a global shortage of farming land and an increasing world population.
People produced bringing more land into cultivation and increasing food production from current farmland. Several problems were caused though by the intensification of agriculture, which possibly are more important than the benefits, which have been stated. Firstly, EU subsidies promoted environmental damage and destruction. Subsidies were beneficial as they guaranteed farmers a minimum price and an assured market for their produce but the determination of farmers to produce vast amounts meant they would go to several lengths to obtain their maximum.
The income to be gained from arable farming in the years of high cereal prices and generous EU support during the 1970s and 1980s in the UK was so tempting that land, previously considered unsuitable for cultivation on grounds of steepness, infertility or shallowness of soil, was ploughed up. Cultivation extended on to the slopes of chalk downlands in southern England, where the long established land use was permanent pasture for sheep. The chalk turf’s thick covering and dense roots were replaced by thin lines of young cereal crops, planted in rows in the autumn, leaving bare soil between them.
Some were planted on slopes as steep as 20 per cent. This was a recipe for soil erosion; run off from winter rainstorms followed rills and gulleys, which was made worse by the compaction of the soil from the heavy machinery used in the autumn sowing. This will cause various problems for people living below the area being farmed and would create an eyesore of bare soil where the picturesque scenery used to be. Also, the removal of hedges allowed the intensification of agriculture to take place. This meant that big businesses were able to take over the land and use large inputs to gain as high an output as possible from the land.
By clearing the natural vegetation cover and replacing a natural ecosystem with an agricultural system, modern agricultural machinery was then easily able to work efficiently, creating the maximum output available. Again though this has caused various problems though. Firstly, what has been described as ‘prairie-ization’ of the English landscape allows topsoil to be blown about creating whirling clouds and hazy visibility at those times of the year when nothing is planted and the topsoil dries out.
Hedges are ‘wildlife reservoirs’, providing food and shelter for many small animals and birds. There numbers have plummeted over the last 30 years. Using inorganic fertilisers also increasing the food output from land already being farmed but these to have serious repercussions. The greatly increased use of inorganic fertilisers was encouraged by a combination of their relative cheapness and the need to increase yields of the new varieties of cereals and the need to increase yields of the new varieties of cereals and new crops such as oil seed rape and linseed.
Serious increases in nitrate levels in surface streams and groundwater stores from run off and leaching have occurred. Enrichment of nitrogen in rivers, lakes and reservoirs leads to eutrophication, which causes rapid plant and weed growth and surface algae blooms. Light penetration and oxygen levels in the water are reduced, adversely affecting fish stocks and other forms of aquatic life. Farmers are taking more water out of streams in summer for watering crops such as potatoes to increase yield per hectare, thereby increasing nitrate concentrations.
Therefore, some people believe the many problems caused by intensifying agriculture to allow for maximum outputs outweigh the costs. Recently, some of the disastrous consequences of CAP have become obvious so agri-environmental schemes have been produced, aimed to encourage environmentally beneficial farming and public enjoyment of the countryside. This means that farming can still produce vast outputs but environmental considerations are also brought into play so the problems are overcome.