Norfolk councillors tour Broadland farm on fact-finding mission

Councillors and officials heard at first hand about the challenges of maintaining quality food production on a Broadland arable farm.

It was also an opportunity to learn more about growing key vegetable crops including potatoes, parsnips and also horseradish.

Members of Broadland Council were invited to Henry Cator's Broad Farm, Salhouse, near Norwich, to consider some of the issues facing farmers and growers in a key Norfolk industry.

It was also an opportunity to discuss the contribution of agriculture and horticulture to the region's economy and also the environment. The party toured the mainly arable farm, which also has a pedigree herd of British White cattle.

Mr Cator, who is also chairman of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, welcomed the visitors including senior members of the National Farmers' Union. 'The meeting was a great opportunity to help key influencers, including the chief executive and leader of the council, to understand our concerns and priorities as farm businesses within the Broads. But we also made it clear farming does not exist in a vacuum, and agriculture and food production are tightly intertwined with food processing, water use, rural housing and employment and the environment in general.

'What happens on the highly productive farms of Broadland can have substantial impacts on the wider rural economy and environment, and vice versa, and it's vitally important that these links are better understood by all.'

Mr Cator said it was important to work with the district council and others on key issues such as securing adequate water resources for agriculture, housing, industry and the environment. 'The pressures of proposed large scale development put a real and present threat on existing resources,' he said.

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'Solutions will lie in a very different strategic approach for the storage of water, in times of plenty, to use in times of drought. We can achieve much by taking a collaborative approach.'

Top potato grower Robin Baines explained to visitors about the need to have water to grow high-value crops. He emphasised agriculture's role as a significant employer in both growing and processing food crops and the region's role in helping to fill the nation's supermarket shelves with a range of quality produce.

He talked about growing crops including potatoes and parsnips, which were being irrigated.

Broadland Council's leader Andrew Proctor stressed the council's support for the rural economy and that it recognised the importance of food production in the area.

'We want to see the district as a whole thrive, which is why one of our key ambitions is the economic success of the whole of Broadland, including its rural communities,' he said. 'We value the contribution of farm businesses to Broadland's economy and want to help those businesses deal with the challenges, including water allocation.

'We will continue this dialogue with the NFU in order to better understand farmers' concerns and identify how the council can continue to strengthen its support for this beautiful part of rural Norfolk.'

The challenge of sustainable intensification or 'producing more while impacting less' was a key topic of debate at the meeting.

Richard Hirst, Norfolk NFU council delegate, who attended the meeting said: 'Modern farming is geared up to producing high quality food while protecting and improving the environment.

'But there are obstacles to overcome, such as tackling food waste through the supply chain and ensuring that there is appropriately-sited housing stock for new entrants to the farming sector. These will be tackled more easily by working with Broadland District Council.'

A council member, Ken Leggett, who was the former Norfolk NFU secretary, arranged the visit.