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East Anglia’s farming community outlines General Election manifesto wish-list

Great British Food Flag (National Farmers' Union)

Great British Food Flag (National Farmers' Union)

National Farmers' Union

While politicians put the finishing touches to their general election manifestos, we asked a cross-section of the farming industry what campaign pledges would win their vote on June 8.

MIXED FARMING

Andrew Blenkiron is estate director at the Euston Estate and vice chairman of Red Tractor Assured Food Standards board.

He said: “We need some clear vision as to what each of the political parties is hoping to achieve for us, and what their policies are going to be to support agriculture in the future. And that could be either some form of direct support or it could be in relation to how we are going to control imports or assist with exports as we move forward. That is the most important significant thing.

“The other part I’m really conscious of with my work with Red Tractor is to lend support to farmers for productivity mechanisms, whether it is tax breaks or grant aid to ensure we are competitive on a global scale, while remembering that we have made massive efforts into higher welfare and environmental measures. We are producing to that standard, and that needs to be recognised.”

AGRONOMY AND SCIENCE

Andrew Melton, regional agronomy sales manager for Frontier, said: “I think rather than just appealing to the snap vote I would like to see a long-term plan. I would like to see them demonstrate that by investing in some proper research.

“Let’s look at the soil health properly rather than scratch the surface. Let’s consider a better plan regarding Countryside Stewardship and perhaps get more practical farmers’ input.

“We need to look at trade and at science and I think they should put their money where their mouth is. We have got some very good research facilities in the East of England but we are not investing in good research with an eye on the long-term. I would like a good commitment for funding, and not just talk about it.

“I want to hear them say food security is important and we are going to demonstrate how we are going to champion and increase the use of UK food.”

CONSERVATION

Heidi Smith is business manager at Norfolk FWAG, the county branch of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group.

She would like to see more resources for environmental stewardship schemes, and for any future support payments for farmers to be conditional on measures to encourage wildlife, as part of a holistic policy incorporating food, health and nature.

“I think the alternative to that will be a race to the bottom in terms of quality,” she said. “We cannot out-compete the likes of China and Brazil and the USA in terms of lack of caring about the environment. Our selling point has to be that our food is produced to a high quality while caring about the environment and we have to play to these strengths, rather than just pursuing cheaper and cheaper food.

“I would like to see a commitment to nature conservation and an acknowledgment of the importance of farming within that objective, not only in delivering food security, but protecting the environment and the countryside. This is essential and it needs to be tied in with other objectives like flood defence or obesity and access to the countryside. It cannot be considered in isolation.”

TRADE

Andrew Dewing, of Aylsham-based merchants Dewing Grain, said: “What I want to hear is if we are going to have Brexit, which we are, then don’t compromise on tariffs for agricultural produce. Because we are a net importer, it needs to be really hard for agricultural produce to come into the UK. If we don’t do any deals to allow cheap imported grain or dairy products into the UK without a big tariff we can give our dairy and pork industries that are really struggling the chance to recover, and to get rewarded for our incredibly high-spec product.

“All of a sudden UK animal producers who have had a torrid time, especially in the dairy sector, might have a future because the UK does not produce enough milk so we will have to stop importing it and produce more of our own.

“For cereals it will mean there are more animals in the UK and more consumption and if you have a particularly dry year and maybe people are getting nervous about the harvest, if there are tariffs on imports then the price of cereals in the UK has the potential to rise because there is no way you can replace it from abroad without paying a tariff.

“Let’s give agriculture a chance to become self-sufficient and feed the UK.”

EDUCATION

Clare Dyble, director of Easton and Otley College, said: “In the most recent budget, the chancellor allocated additional funds to the further education sector – naturally this was very encouraging.

“This was a massive boost as it very clearly recognises the work colleges are doing in supplying skills the country needs to ensure its economic development and prosperity going forward. If continued support on this scale was mentioned in any party manifestos, I’m sure our sector would look on this very favourably.

“In a changing environment post-referendum, we will have to lead from the front in teaching new disciplines – in agriculture and other subjects – so that future generations are well prepared to produce food and care for the environment. So support for education and a clear vision in terms of a post-referendum Britain, is something that is very important from our point of view.”

UNION LEADER

Meurig Raymond is president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which has released its own general election manifesto, outlining five “key policy challenges” for prospective parliamentary candidates: making Brexit a success; investing for growth; safeguarding short, fair, and secure supply chains; placing science at the heart of policy making and; caring for our countryside and rural communities.

He said: “We can’t ignore that farming is arguably the most vulnerable sector in the Brexit negotiations. But the NFU has its sights fixed on solutions and policies to ensure a productive, profitable and progressive farming sector that puts safe, trusted, affordable and quality food on shoppers’ plates.

“The nation needs a food and farming industry with a government strategy, it needs a safe food chain, and it needs a government which looks after the countryside and rural communities.”

What pledges do you want to see in the main political parties’ election manifestos? Contact chris.hill@archant.co.uk.

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