Farmers' water worries are among new Norfolk MP's top priorities
PUBLISHED: 12:33 24 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:33 24 January 2020
One of Norfolk's new MPs has made the critical farming issue of water availability one of his first parliamentary priorities.
Duncan Baker, who was elected as the MP for North Norfolk in December, met with environment secretary Theresa Villiers this week to discuss the future of irrigation licences.
Abstraction permits in a northern section of the Broads are under threat as an Environment Agency (EA) review seeks to realign the balance between commercial, domestic and environmental demands to protect designated habitats.
Some farmers claim they could lose revenue worth tens of thousands of pounds a year if they are unable to access vital water for their crops.
Mr Baker said had raised the concerns of a number of large Norfolk growers - one of which will be joining him on a follow-up meeting with junior Defra minister Rebecca Pow to explain the potential implications first-hand.
"We have a number of businesses in our farming community who potentially have an issue with their licences being revoked," said Mr Baker.
"So I went to the secretary of state to implore her that we need the department to understand how important it is - that if we have not got water to put on our crops then we have a real problem.
"We want to make sure all the dots are joined up and the Environment Agency understands that, in Norfolk, a one-size-fits-all approach won't work. We are one of the driest counties, and one with the most farmers. So in other parts of the country it might fit, but it does not fit here because of how dry we are.
"We are raising awareness to say this is really important, and the Environment Agency needs to justify what it is doing with the farming community.
"It could be general farms producing potatoes, or fruit producers for instance, or people who are processing at the end of the cycle. We have got people in my constituency processing potatoes into chips for supermarkets up and down the land. We talk about farmers, but it is affecting a large range of people who make a livelihood from the land."
Mr Baker also raised a question to Ms Villiers in the House of Commons on Wednesday concerning the government's new Agriculture Bill.
"I think it is really important for backbenchers to bring issues forward and raise issues for their constituents," he said. "I want the secretary of state to understand there is a voice speaking up for farmers in north Norfolk.
"For me, I have always seen it as an important issue. I have grown up in north Norfolk, I have friends who are farmers and my brother-in-law is a farmer. Farming and tourism together are probably the two largest industries in my constituency, so protecting farmers' rights and how the new bill is going is something that is really important to me.
"I have taken an immediate interest simply because the farming industry is fundamentally extremely important to our society."