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Opinion: Farmers' day in the sun

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Bankers' shoes are being filled by some rather muddy feet. Since the credit crunch knocked finance, thwack, from the top of the corporate jungle, there has been something of a rebalancing going on. Carmakers, retailers, housebuilders and others have been jostling for loose political favours and investors' money. But it is farmers who are often coming out with the goodies. Owners of 4x4s are still in vogue, but only those that drive off-road.

The two biggest developing nations are talking big on farm support. China is raising rural subsidies by 20% to more than $17bn, as fertilizer group Sinofert reminded us on Wednesday. India's ruling Congress party has pledged cheaper finance for farmers, to the chagrin of mainstream industrialists.

Investors are getting in on the act too. Terra Firma, a UK-based private equity group, is to buy 90% of Consolidated Pastoral Company, Australia's biggest beef producer. Phil Edmonds, the former England cricketer, has turned his oil exploration company into Agriterra, an agricultural business. Pope Resources has, at last, closed its second forestry fund. Relative to other investments, agricultural shares and commodities haven't done too badly.

And, when faced with a battle, the bailer twine brigade is proving tough opposition. Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez, has got herself into a pickle for, once again, taking on farmers (who defeated her last year). Barrack Obama, the US president, is finding it hard to force through a cut farm subsidies, even with the help of his honeymoon period and an, apparently, strong argument – to spend $9.8bn on hungry children rather than rich agriculturalists.

Still, farmers should make the most of the attention while it lasts. Their credentials look well suited to the current crisis. As manufacturers, they are in tune with the political zeitgeist. Their produce is still in demand - eating is always in fashion. And their potential for bringing in large dollops of foreign currency is a boon for countries struggling to make a blessing of devaluation.

But they won't hog the limelight for ever. When urban industries return to creating jobs, when bankers rediscover their Midas touch, agriculture may struggle to get its voice heard so easily. Farmers, landowners and agricultural industrialists with something to say should speak now while the world is listening.

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