Paul Brannen MEP and I arranged a visit to a Maltby farm to meet members of the National Farmers Union from across North Yorkshire and Durham to talk about their own General Election Manifesto and what they, as farmers, would like to see from a future Government. We spent three hours round the table talking about a wide range of issues affecting both the farming and rural communities.
One of the first things that came up for discussion was the farmers’ desire to see our school children much more familiarised with food production and where our food comes from, apparently a recent survey of children showed that very many did not recognise potatoes which had just been dug up. They want to see it part of the curriculum and in any case were all keen to encourage school visits to their farms but recognised that the need for risk assessments put teachers off a little bit. I said I would write to all of our local schools to see whether they might be encouraged to come along – and perhaps send teachers for a visit first so even if the children never came, the teachers could talk with knowledge about farming and food production.
We also talked about the problems with pricing; some farmers are paid less for their products – particularly milk - than it costs them to produce because the supermarkets use milk as a loss leader to get shoppers into the store. Subjects under discussion included animal feeds, egg production, beef (and what happened when one UK supermarket suddenly decided to only stock beef from female beasts) wheat for biomass energy, greening subsidies, environmental enhancements (and issues where farmers own land in both England and Scotland and different rules apply leading to silly anomalies). Paul certainly came away with a list of things to think about and engage with on his European Parliament committees – agriculture and the environment.
I then asked the farmers and the NFU official to talk to me more generally about rural issues other than farming related and they were quick to identify a couple of issues around rural crime which I will be taking forward with the relevant people.
If I am elected to Parliament in 2015 I will want to represent all local people, whatever their interests, so it was important to hear from this community too. I would like to thank Laurie Norris of the NFU for organising and facilitating the meeting.