Tuesday, January 23, 2007

To those who have ...

click photo to enlarge
It's good news that over the next two years all the states of the European Union will publish information about who actually receives the billions of euros of farm subsidies that are distributed annually. When a list of England's recipients was made public in 2005 few were surprised to find that it wasn't the small farmers struggling on marginal land who mopped up the money, it was the agri-businesses and wealthy landowners who raked it in. Another case, it seems, of "to those who have, shall be given."

The website farmsubsidy.org gives a breakdown of the current main beneficiaries of subsidies, by country. Topping the UK list is Tate & Lyle Europe, who deal mainly in sugar, and have so far accumulated the staggering sum of £356,875,121 (Euros 536,561,902). The rest of the list is a roll call of UK and international food producers. Notable recipients mentioned in the 2005 table, released by the British government under Freedom of Information legislation, include the Queen who got £546,000, and the Duke of Westminster, often described as Britain's richest man, who received £448,472. Many people are concerned that European and US subsidies not only encourage over-production and high prices, but also affect world markets and producers, and lead to the degradation of the land in the subsidised countries. The recent moves to de-couple Europe's subsidies from production and link them to environmental improvement, is to be welcomed. Whether it is the ultimate answer is still open to question.

So, the farmer who improved this land on the edge of the moorland of the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, will receive payments for his produce and to make his land better for the area's wildlife. But it is unlikely to be massive sums, and he will still need tourism-related activities, and perhaps the renting out of shooting rights, to make ends meet. I took this photograph because the cross-shape of the fences and the placement of the two sheep seemed to make a good composition. I emphasised the main elements of the shot by converting the image to black and white. The contrasty, grainy feel, was also deliberate - it added a quality that I like. I used a long zoom lens at 300mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f6.3 at 1/320) with the ISO at 100, and -0.7 EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen