On Monday it was a pleasure to attend the livestock market at Blackmoor Gate. It was a drizzly, misty, grey morning, but the welcome was warm. The Exmoor Hill Farming Network does great work in the upland farming community, and so I was delighted to accept their invitation to attend.
Let’s be blunt – times are pretty tough in the farming industry at present. Livestock prices are soft, incomes are suffering and there are problems with the payments scheme that many farmers rely on. And there’s some public relations challenges too, surrounding the badger cull to control Bovine TB, and the ethics of meat-eating, to name but two issues.
As was the case when I spoke to farmers at the North Devon Show last month, Brexit was on everyone’s mind. I said what I have always said: we must deliver Brexit, with a deal, and end the current uncertainty which is so worrying for our farmers. That’s why I have voted for the withdrawal agreement on every possible occasion in the House of Commons, because that’s the best way to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
I was heartened by the many supportive comments for the government’s position, but received the message loud and clear that we’ve still got a huge challenge to achieve the right outcome for our farming industry.
The other main issue on the agenda was the new Agriculture Bill. I share the concerns of many that the Bill, in its present form, does not sufficiently reflect the primary role of the farming industry: food production. Or more precisely, secure, safe and sustainable food production. I have pledged to raise this with the newly re-appointed Farming Minister, George Eustice, and my parliamentary neighbour, Neil Parish, who chairs the DEFRA select committee.
Farmers – and particularly the upland farmers who I met on Monday – do fantastic work in very challenging conditions. They produce our food, manage our landscapes and are the glue holding together our rural communities.
These are uncertain times for farmers. I get that. But I will keep lobbying strongly in Westminster and Whitehall on behalf of North Devon’s farming community.