I have had this conversation a couple of times over the past year but it still crops up from time to time particularly when getting involved in discussions on twitter. As a smallholder in Ireland for the past 6 years I found myself when asked if I farmed saying things like “well I have a smallholding”, and almost apologising for only having 4 acres. Now this may well be my own personal hang up, but does it really matter if we are labelled as a ‘Farmer’ or ‘Grower’?
So to begin with, what is a farmer? Someone who grows crops and/or keeps livestock, but predominantly it is someone who produces food from the land. The term ‘Grower’ appears to be used in reference to people who grow horticultural food crops, often on a smaller scale. Farms tend to be more specialist these days concentrating on dairy, beef, sheep or arable crops often depending on the land and climate where they farm. The exception to this rule is often, but not always, organic farms which by their very nature lean towards being mixed with livestock and where possible arable crops and possibly vegetables etc.
So does it matter on what scale you grow food? I think it is pushing it a bit to class someone with a veg patch in their back garden a ‘farmer’, but at the end of the day they are growing food albeit for themselves. Therefore a farmer is someone who not only grows food from the land but also sells that produce to consumers. So going back to the many people who are supplying consumers with fresh produce, even if only from a couple of acres, should they not also be classed as farmers?
I’m not saying the term ‘grower’ is in anyway derogatory, but I sometimes feel it used in a way that excludes smaller scale food producers from the farming world. This subject was also brought to mind as the UK Government are not going to include the small farmer scheme under the CAP reform. Now I think this is somewhat more to do with a technicality relating to rules on cross-compliance, but nevertheless the result is no extra financial support for small farms. I believe there is an extra cost incurred by being small due to economies of scale. For example on my smallholding all my livestock feed was bought in 25kg bags I didn’t have the option of bulk buying as I wouldn’t have used the feed up quickly enough, and would have had difficulty with safe storage.
The United Nations has declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) “to recognise the importance of family farming in reducing poverty and improving global food security.” Of course not all family run farms are ‘small’ by any means, especially in parts of the EU, and being small does not necessarily ensure a well-run farm, in the same way as buying’ local’ does not guarantee a particular farming system. From my own experiences of looking after 4 acres with one large polytunnel, a few sheep, a heifer, some poultry and a couple of goats it is very labour intensive but extremely satisfying. On that scale I was able to keep a close eye on my food crops and livestock and very quickly became aware of any problems and react accordingly.
That brings me onto another subject ‘sustainable intensification’ but I think I’m going to save that one for my next post!
Please feel free to join in the discussion and post your comments on the above issues.