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Agriculture and industry

Made in Britain: the McConnel Agribuggy sprayer seen at the Royal Highland Show, Edinburgh, June 2019. Photo Workers.

Modern farming relies on industrial production. We can grow food but can we make a tractor? New Holland Agriculture, based in Basildon, Essex, is one of the world’s most successful and advanced agricultural machinery manufacturing brands and produces tractors at the UK’s only volume tractor plant. Its Basildon site now employs over 800 employees and manufactures some 20,000 tractors per year, with 90 per cent of production exported to more than 120 countries. 

After experiencing difficulty recruiting skilled people in the 25-40 age group with manufacturing skills, New Holland Agriculture developed a £3.4 million training programme to raise employee skills levels to the internationally recognised World Class Manufacturing standard. An employer setting an example – paying to train its own workforce instead of importing cheap labour. 

But making a tractor, like all manufacturing processes, requires energy. For true self-reliance, our energy supply should be reliable, affordable, safe and clean. 

Energy dependence leads to political dependency and insecure supply. Just as Britain tries to leave the EU, we will become more dependent on foreign electricity imports. It is estimated that by 2030 electricity imports would be 67 terawatt-hours annually. That’s ten times the amount originally projected back in 2012. 

Yet our nuclear energy policy is in disarray thanks to EU rules about investment and government reluctance to take control of it (see Let's get scientific about energy).

So our capacity for self-determination is hamstrung by finance capital, which does not invest in industry, and by the high and rising cost of energy. 

Making a tractor also requires steel. Government is sitting back while the  Scunthorpe steel plant is closed (see page 14). This simply means we must get steel from somewhere else, and we lose direct control over quality and availability. 

Steel is an essential product; and the issue of quality is important for our future. Specialist applications in instruments, tools and nuclear plant demand the finest quality. Steel is an energy-intensive industry requiring a dependable power supply.


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