Michael Hart is a beef and lamb farmer from Cornwall and founder of the Small and Family Farms Alliance He is a first generation tenant farmer, having been a dairy farm manager as well as farming his own sheep part time with a few rented acres, he got his first tenancy of a beef and sheep farm with 500 ewes in 1986 in Northamptonshire, his second was a move back to Cornwall in 1992 and back to dairy farming with a small sheep flock. He gave up milking cows in 2000 after several years of the farmgate price being below the cost of production, and expanded his sheep flock again along with some suckler cows. His sheep flock is mainly poll Dorset breeding ewes which lamb naturally at any time of year, so he lambs in both the autumn and the spring. The autumn lambing to sell early the next year (a higher cost system but hopefully also a higher farmgate price) and about one third of the flock lamb in the spring, selling lambs through the summer. He has reduced his suckler herd because of the ongoing major problem of Bovine TB in Cornwall which has been a problem with movement restrictions making it difficult to sell the suckled calves at 12 to 14 months of age he normally sells. Instead he has to keep them until ready to go to slaughter at about two years old which is a problem with winter housing and the feeding of extra animals.
He is a campaigner on farming issues, covering many different farming topics from promoting a better understanding of agriculture by the public, farmgate prices, GM crops, environmental issues and rural art, culture and heritage (as chairman of the Rural Cultural Forum). He has visited many countries in connection with farming, sharing information and learning from farmers around the world. He has written on farming for both farming and non-farming readers.
In 2000 Michael drove his tractor from his farm to the House of Commons in support of family farming, which he believes is the only long term sustainable system of farming from all aspects, food production, the environment and bio-diversity. He called at many towns and cities on his non-motorway journey, collecting letters from other farmers to deliver to Tony Blair.
Interviewing an American farmer for the film
His latest project has been to make a film as a farmer talking to farmers and others in the USA on their experiences of GM crops.The film has been widely acclaimed and can be seen here: http://gmcropsfarmertofarmer.com/index.html
He believes that without a fair deal for farmers we will not move towards a higher level of food security for the UK in the foods that we can produce. The same also applies to farmers in many other countries. The world will never be food secure unless the farmer’s skill, experience and work is rewarded with a fair price.
He has reduced his farm’s production so as to have more time to earn money off farm. However should farming become more profitable with a fair price which gives a fair return for efforts, he would be willing and able to step up production to help feed the people of this country.
The new government’s Big Society policy, which includes more police specials to make up police numbers especially in rural areas, indicates to him that we are going to be like much of rural USA where he met many farmers who farmed thousands of acres but had to have another job to survive.
On his most recent trip he met farmers who were also truck drivers, paramedics, policemen or worked in Wal-mart or some other major chain store and often their family also had to work off-farm, despite the increasing need for food with a growing world population. He ends: “Just look at milk production: who would have thought ten years ago we would be today importing fresh milk to meet demand?”
Michael coined the often quoted sentence: “I hope that one day we will be able to put fairly traded milk in our fair-trade tea and coffee.”