‘Our farmers need certainty’, says outgoing NFU East Anglia director Robert Sheasby

Robert Sheasby, who is stepping down as East Anglia regional director of the National Farmers' Union

Robert Sheasby, who is stepping down as East Anglia regional director of the National Farmers' Union. - Credit: Gregg Brown

National Farmers' Union (NFU) East Anglia director Robert Sheasby has stood down after three years in the role. Here is his farewell message to EDP readers.

I have enjoyed 17 years with the NFU, the last three as regional director for East Anglia. It has been a very busy three years with two General Elections, a referendum on membership of the EU as well as two outbreaks of avian influenza.

However, now sees possibly the greatest time of policy change in farming since the end of World War Two.

Farming has always faced change. However, the current consultation by the government could see some significant change, if implemented poorly, with far-reaching results.

The fabric of rural communities could be changed forever if the way in which farming policy changes after Brexit is not carefully thought through. It contains statements that give insufficient priority to food production and are far from clear about what is a 'public good'.

Currently taxpayers, through the Common Agricultural Policy, pay just short of £4bn year into UK farming, enough to run the NHS for just 10 days.

Yet for this we feed the nation three times a day and provide a multitude of public goods, from the environment and habitat creation to road clearing. We help offset the level of imports frequently produced overseas in a more damaging way to the environment, not to mention the carbon damage of transporting this food to the UK. Farming also provides a fantastic backdrop to the tourism sector.

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What farmers across Norfolk and Suffolk need now, and for the future, is some certainty – long term agricultural policies that provide for profitable businesses and allow all this good work to continue.

We need policies that allow investment in turn in other businesses in the region, from machinery dealers to agronomists and vets, as well as investment in habitat creation. Farmers also require a commitment from government to support home-grown production where practicable, and lastly to ensure that future trade deals with countries around the world do not expose our farmers, and the public, to food produced to lower standards.

My message as I leave the NFU is to urge EDP readers to take the time to respond to this consultation. Tell Defra and tell your MP as well. Don't sit by and then regret not getting involved. Please take control of the future of farming and food in East Anglia and make a response that supports the farming businesses of Norfolk and Suffolk, and agriculture across the country.

• To respond to the consultation, go to the Defra website before the deadline of May 8.