Norfolk farmers travel to Westminster to raise industry concerns with MPs
PUBLISHED: 16:03 26 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:13 27 February 2019
A delegation of senior Norfolk farmers travelled to London to raise important industry issues with politicians - including seven of their county's MPs.
The 10 National Farmers’ Union (NFU) members making the trip came from a cross-section of the county’s agricultural sector, representing arable and livestock producers, fruit growers and conservation managers.
During a series of meetings, the delegation met eight Norfolk MPs: George Freeman, Elizabeth Truss, Sir Henry Bellingham, Richard Bacon, Keith Simpson, Clive Lewis and Norman Lamb. They also met Labour’s shadow environment minister David Drew and Lords environment spokesperson Baroness Jones of Whitchurch.
Important regional topics under discussion ranged from the Environment Agency’s review of water abstraction licences in the Broads, the regular animal activist protests at Norwich Livestock Market, and rural crime such as thefts and hare-coursing.
But the group also discussed the impact of national issues including the availability of migrant labour after Brexit, and the implications of new agricultural and environmental policies for Norfolk farming.
READ MORE: Farmers urged to harness Norfolk’s political power base to avoid cheap food ‘crisis’
NFU Norfolk county adviser John Newton, who organised the event, said: “There was good discussion on all these subjects, and I certainly think the MPs understood these issues better after speaking to us.
“It was very positive. To get that number of MPs turning out is quite remarkable, really. They are extremely busy with Brexit at the moment and so this was a great opportunity for our members to put their points directly to their MPs.”
READ MORE: Farming’s tech revolution can only succeed if we get Brexit right, says MP
Although Norfolk’s farming sector faces many challenges in the coming months, one of the most immediate relates to the review of 250 irrigation licences in the catchment of the rivers Ant, Bure and Thurne in order to comply with environmental regulations.
New NFU Norfolk chairman Nick Deane challenged environment secretary Michael Gove directly on this subject last week at the unions’ national conference, saying the proposals to revoke 21 abstraction licences would “destroy some farming businesses”.
But Mr Newton said it was important to also reinforce the message through Norfolk MPs.
“For some, water licensing may not have appeared on their radar before, “ he said. “MPs around the Broads were aware of it, but those further afield in the county were probably less so. We undertook to give them further briefings and they said they will take it up with Mr Gove.
“I think it is very important because it backs up our lobbying and the more pressure we can apply on these subjects, the more likely we are to get a resolution.”
South West Norfolk MP Ms Truss, a former Defra secretary, said: “It was extremely helpful to have the discussion with Norfolk farmers particularly focusing on the challenges that they face with water abstraction, future funding models and more robust systems in place to tackle rural crime, hare coursing and fly tipping. I have asked to meet Norfolk chief constable Simon Bailey to address these concerns.”
Wereham farmer Ed Lankfer, who attended the meeting in Westminster, said: ‘It was good to meet the MPs and discuss the issues faced. As a farmer, we operate in remote locations with a lot of valuable equipment. I am keen to see more protection against rural crime, theft, illegal hare coursing and fly tipping.”
Other Norfolk farmers making the journey to London included Nick Deane, Tony Bambridge, Will Sands, Ken Proctor, Graham Shadrack, Tim Place, Jamie Lockhart, James Woodhouse, Jake Fiennes and Tim Papworth.