East Yorkshire farmers recently met with East Yorkshire Labour Party Officers in Driffield to discuss farming and rural futures.
This was the second meeting this year.
The first had been requested and hosted by the Labour Party and NFU arranged and hosted the second sharing of information and views.
Andrew Scott emphasised that the NFU is strictly non-political but is keen to learn about and perhaps influence Labour’s thinking as the prospects of a Labour Government and uncertainties around Brexit grow.
Daniel Vulliamy for Labour acknowledged that the party has had a strong urban focus and relatively underdeveloped thinking on rural issues, so members are anxious to learn more.
The shadow of Brexit is strongly felt in the sector. NFU members stressed the damage to investment decisions from the continuing uncertainties about a no-deal Brexit, particularly when lead-in planning often takes three or four years.
Another particular pressing concern is the Agriculture Bill which gives relatively low priority to the production of food and seems to concentrate power at government level when there are doubts about Department competence.
On the other hand, Labour policies also focus more on animal welfare issues and the reinstatement of the Agricultural Wages Board rather than food production issues per se.
Labour representatives see crucial choices facing the government in relation to agriculture, paralleling options in the wider economy; does the country opt for a low-wage low-productivity unregulated market system model or should we promote market regulation, high quality food with proper investment and environmental standards?
Andrew Harrison emphasised farmers’ commitment to be guardians of the countryside and maintain the quality of rural areas, whilst John Gatenby emphasised the limits; ‘you can’t go green if you are in the red’.
Farmers also confirmed that government austerity policies are having dramatic consequences, particularly in relation to policing at a time of increased rural crime (thefts of livestock and machinery, hare coursing, fly-tipping).
Other issues discussed included the high average age of farmers, training support from Agricultural Colleges, the increasing diversification of income streams, delays and errors in administering rural payments, the impact of changing weather patterns on flood risks, and compensation for Holderness coastal farmers from land loss to the National Coastal Path Scheme on top of coastal erosion.
Labour members were pleased to learn that NFU feels it is now being listened to by Labour Party officers at
national and local levels. Vicky Thompson acknowledged in turn that farming is clearly something of a vocation, which is why many stay in the industry despite fluctuating and uncertain incomes, long hours and high accident rates.
The farmers present welcomed Catherine Minnis’ suggestion that Labour Party members visit farms to increase their understanding of the industry. Both sides affirmed the value of the meeting and the need to continue dialogue.