Gazette & Herald Column: Farmers need to be on best possible footing for future

Thank you!  I know that many local people want to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped deliver essential medical and care services last weekend, and to the Police, Wiltshire Council, Army and to local farmers who helped to clear the roads and rescue stranded motorists.  There have been many ‘local hero’ stories and I was especially pleased that Planks Dairy maintained deliveries to most areas, and that Marshalls Bakery in Pewsey continued to bake, when many of the supermarkets ran out of milk and bread!

I’d like to pay particular tribute to the farmers who put in so much time and effort to clear snow-blocked roads, dig out cars and ensure that villages across the Constituency were not cut off for too long over the last few days – as always doing this alongside their ‘day jobs’.  I know that many local farmers are very frustrated with the current system of farm payments, which provide essential subsidies to farmers based on how much land they own and all too often require huge amounts of admin – time which would be better spent actually farming. 

I have been working with a number of local farmers to speed up delays for some very overdue claims under the current system.  These delays can have a real impact on farm businesses and last week in Westminster I met with Farming Minister, George Eustice to make progress.  I was pleased that the Rural Payments Agency committed to fully reviewing the claims and resolving the outstanding issues by the end of March.  Looking forward, as we leave the European Union we have a once in a generation opportunity to design a domestic agriculture policy that supports investment in sustainable, and healthy, great British food production, and which really delivers for farming, our environment and animal welfare.  I’m pleased therefore that Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary has published the Government’s proposals for the reform of Agriculture and a consultation is open until 8 May. 

Across the UK, the Farming and Food Industry contributes £100 billion to the economy and I’m sure that Salisbury-based, Minette Batters, recently elected as the National Union of Farmers’ first female president will be making a very strong case on behalf of Wiltshire farmers to ensure that the sector is on the best possible footing for the future. And as I know many local people care very much about the future of British farming, our food, and the environment I very much urge you to have your say too.