Cumbria's farmers want 'certainty of direction' after General Election

by Maureen Hodges

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Farm gates in Cumbria will be thrown open to welcome the county’s potential MPs.

Crag End Farm, Cockermouth
Crag End Farm, Cockermouth

Offers of on-farm visits are on the table giving candidates the opportunity to hold face-to-face meetings with farmers concerned about the future of their businesses post-Brexit.

Prospective parliamentary candidates targeting rural seats, and those on the urban fringe, will be sent a copy of the National Farmers’ Union manifesto.

“It is vital we engage with candidates opposing the seat, as well as the one that holds it, as you never know what may happen or where they may pop up again the future,” said David Hall, NFU north west regional director.

He says most of the candidates are keen to hear about the issues and happy to engage with farmers.

However, he adds, the ones on the urban fringe are often the greatest challenge ‘as they think the farmers are fewer in number and their focus is on other areas such as aerospace and nuclear.’

West Cumbrian beef and sheep farmer Alistair Mackintosh says he hopes one of the outcomes from the election will be some certainty of direction to allow farmers to be able to plan for the next five years to 2022, rather than the ‘short-termism’ of certainty until 2019.

 Alastair Mackintosh

Alastair Mackintosh

“Under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), farmers have worked on a seven-year planning cycle, but going forward that will change to a five-year parliamentary term, or a three-year treasury cycle,” said Mr Mackintosh.

“Commitment for support to 2019 gives farmers the certainty to be able to plan, and it is important that we manage the costs within our businesses as effectively as possible and optimise production.”

Kirkoswald sheep farmer David Raine said poor broadband, patchy mobile phone coverage, maintenance of drainage channels and the loss of chemical controls for leatherjackets, as well as the Basic Payment Scheme and future farming policies on the list of concerns expressed by the county’s farming community.

“We need to understand why we seem to be restricted in available chemicals in the UK and further highlight the real impact this is having on our productivity,” said Mr Raine, NFU Cumbria county chairman.

He added: “Neonicotinoid restrictions are currently causing significant yield reductions in oilseed rape crops, and our Government has refused a derogation to allow controlled use in critical areas.”

 Robert Craig

Robert Craig

Armathwaite dairy farmer Robert Craig said Brexit could be great for Cumbria farming, but equally could be a complete disaster.

“Make no mistake, for agriculture there’s only one issue which really matters in the long run and that’s how we break our ties with the EU. It’s becoming clear the process of leaving is anything but simple and is certainly not going to be swift,” said Mr Craig, who farms at Cairnhead Farm and is a Nuffield Farming Scholar.

“It’s highly unlikely any future BAP (British Agriculture Policy) will bare any similarity to the current CAP, more likely there will be less money, a lot less money and many more strings attached to the eligibility of receiving it, not necessarily a bad thing.

“It’s the uncertainty that is most damaging to businesses and especially those who are investing and growing.

“Stability is everything in business, predictable tax rates, interest rates and stable markets for goods, all leading to strength and predictability in the economy,” he added.

“I want to hear, from our politicians, their vision for food and agriculture for the next 20 years, and see a real commitment to produce food and landscapes that are valued and respect those who produce them, its time to be honest and focus our attention on the transition from CAP to BAP, be it five or even 10 years, it starts with vision.”

 Eddie Eastham

Eddie Eastham

Former hill farmer Eddie Eastham now finishes around 1,200 bought-in sheep annually, alongside 200 gimmer shearlings at Longburgh Fauld, on the outskirts of Carlisle.

Eddie took up the mantle of Chairmanship of the NSA Northern Region in February.

He would like to see an invigorated rural infrastructure created with an improved broadband and mobile communications. “A thriving rural economy within which a profitable farming industry can produce healthy food, maintain high welfare standards and receive a fair price from the market place.”

He added that Government needed to acknowledge trade negotiations with the EU will be tough, but to strive for a situation which allows continued access to a tariff free European market.

Turning to future farm payments, Mr Eastham said he would like to see a UK designed farm support scheme which includes payments for public goods like flood alleviation, soil protection, environmental enhancements etc.

“There needs to be understanding that these objectives cannot be achieved without a profitable agricultural industry.”

Thursday, May 18, 2017 at 8:48AM
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