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General election campaign should be about more than Brexit, says farming leader

PUBLISHED: 16:09 30 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:09 30 October 2019

NFU East Anglia regional director Rachel Carrington. Picture: Warren Page/Pagepix

NFU East Anglia regional director Rachel Carrington. Picture: Warren Page/Pagepix

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Politicians preparing to mount their general election campaigns must be ready to debate farming issues beyond Brexit, says RACHEL CARRINGTON, East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers' Union (NFU).

So after avoiding the nightmare scenario of a Halloween no-deal Brexit, we now find ourselves preparing for the first December general election since 1923.

Just as in 2017, the campaign is likely to be dominated by Brexit, revisiting all the arguments around remain or leave.

For farmers and growers across East Anglia avoiding a no-deal Brexit is essential. We have side-stepped one cliff edge but "no deal" still remains a distinct possibility as we head towards the next deadline of January 31.

The NFU has been clear about why a no-deal would be so damaging for our hugely-important food and farming sector.

Apart from losing access to our main export market, worth £3.15bn in agri-food exports in 2017, the introduction of import and export tariffs would have a serious impact on many businesses, including the region's hugely important horticulture and poultry sectors. At the same time we could see our markets opened up to food imports produced to standards that would be illegal here.

Labour availability is already becoming a serious issue on many farms but with a no-deal Brexit it would be even more difficult to recruit workers from overseas to help grow, harvest and pack our food.

And farms would face potential disruption on items sourced from the EU, including animal vaccines, fertiliser, crop protection products and farm machinery.

During the election campaign the NFU will be meeting candidates from all parties to highlight why we need to leave the EU in a smooth and orderly way.

But we will also be looking beyond Brexit, highlighting some of the other issues that must be addressed if our farm businesses are to survive and thrive.

Our members will want to hear about policies that will enable farm businesses to remain competitive, covering areas such as infrastructure, taxation, planning, access to new technology and support for local food production.

They will be looking for measures that will help them grow their businesses and improve their resilience against challenges such as climate change. This includes ensuring growers can access the water they need to grow crops.

Rural crime remains a major concern for many farm businesses and farmers will want parliamentary candidates to support adequate funding for Norfolk's under-pressure police force.

Another general election is probably not what most people want. But now it's here we must ensure farming's voice is heard during the campaign, with politicians giving food and farming the attention our strategically-important industry deserves.

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