Objective One Investment – Food And Farming
Last week, Prof Peter Gripaios from the University of Plymouth argued on national radio that Cornish farming did not deserve the millions of pounds in funding it receives from Europe's Objective One programme, saying the cash should be spent on other things. David Rodda begs to differ.
Why bother throwing good money at industries that are in decline? Why not let them expire gracefully and plough your cash into those things that will create jobs and long term prosperity?
Well I would take issue with the definition of agriculture in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as in 'decline'. Yes, we know the pressures that food producers are under; yes we know that the average age of farmers in Cornwall is 57 and that 40% have no succession plan in place; yes we know that reform of the Common Agricultural policy is a recipe for huge upheaval. But none of these are arguments for abandonment. Instead, we need to do something about them to make sure the industry can adapt to change and thrive in the future.
But is it an industry worth supporting? Food production, processing and distribution are worth £1 billion a year in Cornwall. That's the same as tourism, or about 25% of the total economy, so I would argue yes. And you only have to look at the impact of foot and mouth in 2001 to appreciate how closely tied our tourism economy is to land-based industries. What really matters is trying to address those structural issues that threaten to undermine the future of agriculture in Cornwall – and that's what the Objective One Programme has been doing.
The Cornwall Agricultural Council (CAC), which was formed in 1989, has been the architect of how Objective One money should be invested. Far from 'propping up' agriculture as suggested by some commentators, the money is being used to stimulate change and new ways of working.
We all recognise that agriculture has been going through major change for several years, but that's no reason to write it off as undeserving of support. One of our priorities has been to assist land-based industries - which comprises some 7,500 holdings in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and supply many of the raw materials for our food industry – to develop and adapt to changing markets and circumstances. As Cornwall's farmers manage 85% of the Cornwall's land mass it is vital that they remain a strong and viable contributor to the rural economy so that they can continue to protect and enhance our unique environment.
We've been supporting projects that make these farms more competitive, whether it's a machinery ring to reduce costs, or our 'Fresh Start' programme that supports new entrants into the industry and helps those that want to retire do so with dignity. We are backing supply chain development to encourage local sourcing, and recently invested in a project that will develop new products sourced in Cornwall under the Eden Project brand name, for example Sharp's Eden Ale which has recently been launched.
Adding value to raw produce in this way is a major focus for Objective One and the CAC. We produce some of the finest ingredients in the UK, only for them to be exported, turned into something else and sold on at a premium elsewhere. One of the projects we are supporting, for example, is the creation of an NHS food processing unit in Redruth to supply meals to the health service in Cornwall, using local suppliers. We also invested in a state-of-the-art production facility for Riviera Produce in Hayle, now one of Cornwall's leading producers and packers of Cornish fruit and vegetables for the UK retail, processing and wholesale markets, sourcing over one million trays of produce a year from local farms. The company's impressive growth has earned it a ranking at number 75 in the Sunday Times Fast Track Top 100.
The quality of Cornish produce was also one of the factors that convinced Jamie Oliver that Cornwall is the best place for his only Fifteen restaurant in the UK outside of London. We are also investing in improving business performance through a range of skills programmes being delivered across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and there are 15 delegated grant schemes providing individual businesses with funding for activities like diversification, marketing, training and product development.
Another goal of our strategy is supporting projects that protect and enhance the environment. One project we supported converts green and wood waste into compost rather than it going to landfill. Some of these projects are very small in nature, but with over 2,500 businesses having received support through the Objective One agricultural programme the collective impact is significant.
Not that we don't spend money on the big stuff, mind you. Two years ago Objective One invested £4.8 million in a £49 million expansion of the Davidstow Creamery in North Cornwall, match funded with £4.8 million from Defra. Cornwall now has the largest cheese processing plant in Europe with a milk processing capacity of over 500 million litres a year, all of which is supplied by local farmers. Dairy Crest currently processes 350 million litres a year but intends to reach 460 million litres by 2012, and a consequence of our investment is that they pay a premium for the milk they buy.
Similarly, we recently announced a £1.4 million investment in Rodda's, the UK's leading clotted cream producer that will allow the company to double capacity.
Neither of these projects is about creating hundreds of new jobs, and to focus solely on jobs is to miss the point. What they do represent are strategic investments that will help underpin and develop Cornwall's dairy sector for years to come. It is worth noting that the 'agricultural' element of Objective One amounts to £52.8 million of European funding between 2000 and 2006, out of a total pot of £351 million, or just 15% of the total programme. As our investment usually covers up to 40% of total project costs, the farmers and businesses themselves are providing at least 60% out of their own resources.
Also the inter-relationship between the agricultural element of Objective One and the other elements of the programme mean that the benefits of investment are felt beyond the land-based sector and into the wider rural economy. Unless there was a demonstrable need for this funding we wouldn't have received it, so Europe clearly recognises the importance of supporting Cornish agriculture.
The same is true for UK Government – the agricultural programme under Objective One was the only one to be pre-matched by Whitehall, effectively doubling the amount of money available to around £105 million.
So far, 88% of the available agricultural funds – or £46 million – has been approved for 122 different projects across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The remaining 12% must be committed by the end of next year, which means there will be intense competition. So we face difficult choices as we prioritise those projects that deliver the most for the Objective One Programme, the economy of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and all those involved in land based industries.
There will inevitably be some disappointment because we will not be able to invest in all the projects that are being developed, and it remains to be seen what form the Objective One programme will take after 2006. But at least our investment decisions are taken locally rather than remotely somewhere out of county.
The Objective One Programme is helping to deliver a step change in the capacity of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly's land based sector, allowing it to make strategic investment decisions to achieve long term growth and economic prosperity. Writing it off does nothing to help that cause.
David Rodda is senior agricultural co-ordinator for the Cornwall Agricultural Council Development Team.
For further information please contact David Rodda of Cornwall Agricultural Development Team on 01872 322888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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