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Norfolk Business Awards 2018

Brexit dominates west Norfolk farmers’ questions to Brains Trust panel

Brexit concerns dominated the questioning to Stoke Ferry Agricultural Society's

Brexit concerns dominated the questioning to Stoke Ferry Agricultural Society's "Brains Trust" panel. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

Brexit and politics dominated the thoughts of west Norfolk farmers as they grilled a panel of agricultural experts on the prospects for their industry.

Stoke Ferry Agricultural Society's 2018 winter wheat competition winner Robert Smart (centre) pictured with, from left, society chairman Paul Wortley and 'Brains Trust' panellists Alex Ison from Cruso & Wilkin, Mark Haydon from Whiting & Partners Accountants, and Andrew Blenkiron from Euston Estate.Stoke Ferry Agricultural Society's 2018 winter wheat competition winner Robert Smart (centre) pictured with, from left, society chairman Paul Wortley and 'Brains Trust' panellists Alex Ison from Cruso & Wilkin, Mark Haydon from Whiting & Partners Accountants, and Andrew Blenkiron from Euston Estate.

Stoke Ferry Agricultural Society invited a “Brains Trust” to its January meeting, comprising Alex Ison, an associate partner at Cruso and Wilkin chartered surveyors in King’s Lynn, Mark Haydon, managing partner of Whiting and Partners accountants, and Andrew Blenkiron, estate director at the Euston Estate near Thetford.

All the questions put to the panel by club members related to the implications of Britain’s exit from the EU, including the effect on land prices, the regulation of genetically-modified crops, and the promised reduction of red tape.

And following environment secretary Michael Gove’s recent announcement that future farm payments will depend on wildlife-friendly criteria, one of the more pointed questions was: “Does the panel think it is time to stop saving every species of flora and fauna, and start saving the food producer?”

Mr Blenkiron said: “I think what Michael Gove was saying is that we have got to continue this path we have been on to manage the environment better than we did in the 1970s, when I would say we were all guilty of not looking after things as well as we should have.

“You need to be profitable to be able to do that. As long as we are profitable and as along as the incentive is not for us to rip out hedgerows and trees, then we can do it – but we have to got to maintain our productive capacity on our most productive land.

“All around the world, farmers are good at following the cash. We were paid to rip out hedgerows and we were paid to drain the land within an inch of its life. All of a sudden people were asking why we had billions of pounds of surplus, so then we had set aside to correct the balance.

“I am really positive about the future. We will all adapt and we are capable of doing whatever we need to do. But what we have seen from the government over the last 60 years of farm policy is they will cock it up. We will over-produce or under-produce and then we will have to find a way to balance it.”

Mr Haydon said: “There were times when we didn’t do as well as we could, but the farmer didn’t want to be grubbing up hedges – it was the economic thing to do. Maybe we were pushed too far down that road before, but it is a question of getting that balance. Food production has got to be the principle activity in this part of the world. There are aspects we need to be productive on, and there needs to be incentives for the environment.”

Mr Ison added: “We need to keep a balance. We cannot let the environmentalists and Michael Gove dictate to us that everything is about flora and fauna. In my experience there are successes and failures. When I was younger I never saw a buzzard or a kite in Norfolk, but they have taken over at the expense of some of the smaller songbirds. So there has to be a balance in everything and I don’t think farmers go out of their way to destroy flora and fauna.”

WHEAT COMPETITION

The winner of Stoke Ferry Agricultural Society’s winter wheat competition claimed the prize for the fourth successive season.

Robert Smart from Marshland St James retained his title with a sample of Cordiale with a specific weight of 76.8.

In second place was Jon Tomkins from Watlington and joint third were Roger Eyles from Northwold and Jim Smart from Marshland St James.

The club’s next meeting is on February 6 at Ryston Park Golf Club near Downham Market, featuring a talk on potato growing and packing by Justin Wilderspin, field operations manager from Albert Bartlett and Sons.

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