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East Anglian farmers explain their policy priorities for David Cameron's new government

PUBLISHED: 08:27 09 May 2015 | UPDATED: 08:27 09 May 2015

Prime minister David Cameron feeds a newborn lamb at an Oxfordshire farm during the General Election campaign. Picture: PA

Prime minister David Cameron feeds a newborn lamb at an Oxfordshire farm during the General Election campaign. Picture: PA

PA Wire/Press Association Images

After the drama of the General Election, East Anglia's farmers have laid out their priorities for what David Cameron's new government should do to promote British food production and boost agricultural profitability.

The EDP ran a survey asking anyone involved in the industry to tell us what they thought the top three priorities should be for the next parliament.

Top of the list was the need for science-based decision-making – particularly in the regulation of crop protection chemicals. This was closely followed by the urgent need to resolve the debacle over the Basic Payment Scheme application system, suggestions to improve self-sufficiency and food security, the influence of the EU, and water licensing reform.

Also rated highly were the need for investment in research and development, measures to stabilise commodity prices and to extend investment allowances for farmers.

Here is a selection of your post-election demands:

Chemical regulations and science-based decisions

Government decisions at European or UK level should be made on the basis of proper scientific evidence. We are suffering a dramatic reduction in the number of plant protection products that are approved for use, particularly on horticultural crops. If we want to continue to have access to fresh produce from the UK, and grown to UK standards we must stop making decisions based on the whims of single issue pressure groups. This also extends to bovine TB and bagger culling.

(Bob Young, Hockwold)

The Basic Payment Scheme (BPS)

We need an urgent, prompt review of the chaotic BPS system with simplification, pragmatic view on mapping issues, and planning for prompt payment in December.

I have placed this at number one because it is urgent. The BPS payment is critical to all farming businesses, and the current debacle at the RPA (Rural Payments Agency) leaves the industry feeling that payment is likely to be delayed unnecessarily by months – and this would have huge consequences for all farming businesses.

(Ross Haddow, Stody Estate)

Self sufficiency and food security

British self-sufficiency has declined from over 80pc twenty years ago to 60pc now, and is forecast to fall further to under 5pc in the foreseeable future. This is not only bad for UK farmers; it could be even worse for consumers who will find themselves at the mercy of other countries’ food producers against a background of rising world populations and food shortages.

(David Richardson, Great Melton)

The EU and the Euro

The top issue affecting us is the value of the euro. This affects us in firstly in the value of the products that we are marketing and also just as significantly the value of our Basic Payment. Based in East Anglia the majority of our wheat goes out through the ports so a strong pound devalues us against our competitors. The last three years has seen the pound / Euro rate fall from almost parity to a low a few weeks ago at 70.5p.

Linked to the euro again is the worry of coming out of Europe. The consequences are fairly unknown and may have the short term effect of reducing the value of the pound but what will happen to the BPS?

(John Barrett, Sentry Norfolk)

Water licensing reform

We need security of water supply for periods of time long enough to justify continued capital expenditure in the business. Defra is trying to take water away from us in the Cam and Ely Ouse catchment under very precautionary WFD (Water Framework Directive) principles. We have been issued three-year licences rather than 10-15 years as would be normal, with a fear of probable licence reductions based on political pressures rather than aimed at solving problems.

(Andrew Francis, Elveden Estate)

Labour and immigration:

In the food and farming industry we have to work long and unsociable hours so that we can keep supplies of our products available almost 24/7 for the ever more demanding consumer. This often involves a variety of jobs in demanding conditions that could be described as repetitive, physically hard or challenging and of course these jobs happen 24 hours of the day. It is the eastern European migrant workers who, in the main, have made these jobs their own as there is no longer a willingness for local people to do this type of work. If there are any changes to the free movement of labour from Europe into the UK it would have a huge impact on the industry’s ability to operate and would probably put many companies out of business due to the inability to find labour.

(Mark Gorton, Traditional Norfolk Poultry, Shropham)

Investment allowances

Allowing farm infrastructure to be part of the Agricultural Investment Allowance (AIA) would be a great help for farmers and employment in the region generally. What I mean by farm infrastructure is roadways, buildings and reservoirs, none of these currently qualify, but tractors and combines do, which is great. So the AIA does drive buying shiny green things built in Germany, but it could drive local building, construction and plant hire, etc – getting the farm infrastructure up to modern needs.

(Tony Bambridge, B&C Farming, Marsham)

Broadband

Digital connectivity is essential for businesses and rural areas are being left behind by rollouts of both high speed broadband and mobile signal. We know that promises of superfast broadband and 4G mobile will never come to what we now refer to as “the last 5pc” but it’s vital for the rural economy that more is done to look into alternative options for these people

(Clarke Willis, Anglia Farmers)

If you’d like to join our EDP Farmers’ Forum to add your voice to these debates, contact chris.hill@archant.co.uk.

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