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Free trade or farm support? You decide

12/17/2010 @ 1:49pm

It is the ultimate modern paradox. On the one hand agricultural subsidy stabilizes food supply, has fueled green revolutions the world over, and has delivered sustainable farming systems.

But on the other it has created massive distortions in global markets and political gridlock in world trade talks. It has bank-rolled large corporations in developed countries while third-world subsistence farming suffers.

But the political will to retain it remains as strong as ever -- while it may have evolved over the last 30 years, neither the US nor the EU has done much to reduce the billions paid to their farmers.

This support appears to be buoyed up by public opinion -- less than a quarter of those polled recently in Canada’s leading paper The Globe and Mail said support should be dropped. A discussion on farm subsidies in the New York Times revealed plenty of suggestions to fix a broken system, but few wished to scrap it altogether.

But what about the world’s farmers? As Europe prepares for another round of CAP reform and the US Congress reviews the country’s Farm Bill, the timing could not be better to gauge the feelings of farmers the world over.

That’s why Farmers Weekly, the UK’s best-selling farming title, is conducting a poll of the world’s farmers. We’re partnering with five other leading farming titles around the world in one of the most ambitious online projects the global agricultural community has seen. Almost a million farmers are being asked for their views on the future of agricultural subsidy.

Taking part is easy -- all you need to do is click here. There you’ll find four choices for the future purpose of agricultural subsidy. Just indicate which one you agree with most. They are:

  1. Protecting national/regional food supply

  2. Stabilising consumer prices

  3. Protecting the environment

  4. I don’t think agriculture should be subsidized

Farmers Weekly is also running a forum where you can contribute further to the debate.

So how do farmers feel about agricultural subsidy? The feelings of a New Zealand sheep farmer, in a country where subsidy was scaled back to zero in less than a year, would be remarkably different to those of a Welsh hill farmer. A Midwest US corn grower, enjoying prices buoyed by ethanol subsidy, would disagree with Canadian beef producers struggling with high feed prices.

And as Asian, Indian and Russian markets show massive potential for exports, which of the globe’s biggest producers will steal the march? Few are better placed to comment on farmers’ concerns and aspirations than the editors of the world’s leading farming publications.

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