The Right to Farm
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Two generations back a 100 acres on a typical farm probably found full time employment for three people. And a typical country parish of 2,000 acres would, therefore, be home for over sixty families dependent directly on farming. And those not directly dependent on farming were dependent on those who were. Few people had cars and public transport in the country was not such that much commuting to work was done.
As most people were employed in, or dependent on, farming in one way or another, there was understanding of and empathy with what was going on beyond the confines of, and between, villages. Any new innovation was of interest not because it might be a treat, but rather because it was likely to be an opportunity to improve the welfare of the community.
A generation back a 100 acres probably found employment for one person with about 20 households in a village depending directly on farming. More people were commuting but not over great distances and the character of rural towns was such that agriculture was still significant to their economies and empathy with farming still survived.
Today it probably takes about 300 acres to find full employment for one person and perhaps the typical 2,000 acre parish would find employment for half a dozen families. But paradoxically some of those typically live in town where housing is less expensive and commute to their work in the countryside.
Many of the newcomers commute significant distances to large urban centres where agriculture is of next to no significance, and being raised in an urban environment they may have no understanding or empathy with farming. Thus the influence of agriculture interest even in a village can be insignificant.
Many of them undoubtedly moved to the countryside to avoid traffic, noise and smells of the urban environment. Farming, of course, creates all three in a rather different ways, but is probably just as intrusive to those not used to those ways.
Awoken at first light by a sprayer taking advantage of the still morning air on its first round of a headland adjacent to the newcomers dwelling, and in the process producing a strange smell, the newcomers might start questioning the decision to move to the countryside. This doubt might be reinforced if the morning commute is slowed by the same sprayer on a country lane moving from one job to the next.
Barraged by popular press and media stories about the unsafe nature of modern agriculture, the newcomers might equally well believe that they will be doing themselves and others a favour by taking action to limit such conventional farming practices. They are probably unaware that current farm chemicals are tested almost to extinction and their application tightly regulated. They might even care to ignore this if there was a possibility of the disturbance being eliminated by political action.
NIMBY (Not in my backyard) lobby interests have won a string of victories over multinational corporations on the siting of industrial complexes and even government itself on the location of infrastructure. Farmers are clearly ill equipped to defend their turf against such.
If the Nimbies are successful with the sprayer issue they will no doubt be encouraged to move onto such issues as grazing livestock with the germ carrying flies they attract and slow moving farm tackle on the roads. With agriculture, of course, it is not a matter of relocating as there are no unoccupied alternative sites. It is more likely to be a case of yet more costly and unjustifiable restrictions at a time when the industry is expected to be competitive globally.
What is probably needed is some form of Right to Farm legislation to protect farmers' interests. As a minimum this should recognize that such rights exist and provide for a negotiation process for compensation where an individual or collective interest desires to limit legitimate farming activity.
If there was a recognized process for negotiating these rights, then it would encourage such negotiation. As it is, the option for those who might want to limit farming activity is to fabrication some fallacious health or safety argument and either pursue it through political process, or resort to the blackmail of prohibitively costly legal process.David Walker
August 26, 2003
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