It’s a funny topic, delayed gratification, and it’s entirely possible to get deep and philosophical without answering the question. Or indeed without even acknowledging there is a question that needs to be answered with any sort of haste.
Back in 1965 when my parents started farming, what happened was that my father and his brother-in-law both rented a farm off my grandfather. He’d had 34 cows, 60 sheep and a handful of young-stock. Because my father had always quite liked working with sheep he bought the sixty sheep and then the two brothers-in-law split the 34 cows between them. The cows were still tied up for winter, so all that happened is that they let every other cow out, and these seventeen were walked next door to where we lived and were the start of our herd.
On his two farms, with that level of stocking, my grandfather had employed three men and a boy, and he’d also worked. Almost immediately, because both new farms were borrowing money to start off with, the amount of labour was cut. It dropped to two men and ‘family labour.’ At the time this meant the wife helped out when she wasn’t working. Still the aim was that when the businesses were properly established and the debt paid off, they’d employ people.
The economic situation back then was pretty positive, even in the early 1970s my father could work on increasing the herd to 30+ cows and that would keep two families, assuming that at some point I would get married etc.
But the world turns, that was a period of massive inflation, governments needed to keep food prices down to provide cheap food to ensure that they didn’t have an unhappy electorate. But by then we were behind the EU tariff wall which keeps food prices up by excluding cheap imports from the rest of the world. So the UK government couldn’t just drive down prices by encouraging cheap imports.
So instead they destroyed the Milk Marketing Board, and when farmers formed a co-op to market their milk, they destroyed that as well, forcing farmers to form multiple smaller trading bodies or sign directly with processors.
This nicely drove prices down. It fitted in well with supermarket plans. They used their market dominance to undercut those who were running milk rounds, and we’re now at the stage where rounds-men are a novelty and the major retailers have largely carved up the liquid market.
And of course they’ve kept the price of milk down. By the time I stopped producing milk in 1999 there was me, with 60+ cows, thirty sucklers and an awful lot of young stock across the same land my grandfather had farmed with himself, three men and a boy. Admittedly I still had family labour, but thanks to the EU my lady wife had a nearly full time job just coping with the paperwork.
But anyway, governments and consumers got what they wanted, cheap food. Consumers now had money they could spend, which largely seems to have gone into creating the online world with everybody having computers, laptops, netflix, smart phones etc and being ‘connected’. Admittedly there were issues. One man on his own hasn’t got the same amount of time as four men and a lad when it comes to doing things like walling and hedging and keeping the countryside looking like it should.
But supermarkets were making lots of money, (until of course the online retailers started eating their lunch. And ironically part of the reason there was money available for the growth of the online world is that people are spending far less of their income on food. The rule of thumb is that this generation can eat organically and spend a smaller proportion of their income on food than did their parent’s generation eating conventionally.)
But still, government and consumers and even supermarkets got what they wanted, almost immediately.
But to get it when they wanted they’ve been faced with a price that they’re still paying. Cheap food leads to a cheap countryside, maintained on the cheap
Oh yes, delayed gratification. I’ll have to get round to discussing it with you some time in the future.
More tales from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England, with sheep, Border Collies, cattle, and many other interesting individuals. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just one of those things.