From the Westmorland Gazette

Over the Gate - Praise for minister's farm stint

By Jeff Swift

HAVING taken Margaret Beckett - Secretary of State at DEFRA - to task on several occasions, this week I am going to commend her. I might not be very good, but by gosh I'm fair.

I commend her for spending five hours on the Easingwold farm of Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union. The good lady thus had the opportunity to learn at first hand about what it takes to run a working farm. The day-to-day problems, the investment needed to stock and equip a mixed farm, the nightmare of the 20-day rule that closes a farm down for 20 days as soon as an animal comes onto the farm. No doubt they would discuss a wide range of issues and I do hope she took to heart the lesson learned.

Since I wrote about the decimation of our British Fishing Industry, several things have come to light. Among them was the recent award of £400 million to the Spanish to enable them to increase and upgrade their fishing vessels. Isn't life wonderful? I further learn - and I must confess that until now I had never heard of this - that Danish factory trawlers have been allowed to fish for vast quantities of sand eels. So what, you may say, well sand eels are one of if not the main food of cod. Put all these things together with the swingeing regulations put on our fishermen and you soon realise what happens when politicians and bureaucrats take a hand.

What worries me is that the Prime Minister says "British farming must be modernised". Did he not say that about the National Health Service, the railways etc. So my New Year's message would be farming has been modernising for years and we've got the receipts to prove it. So forget any modernistic ideas, we can stand most things, but not those. Look at globalisation, but don't become obsessed with it. Then, instead of promising the South Americans (where foot-and-mouth is endemic) that you will try to persuade the EU to take more of their beef, get behind British farming, it won't let you down, it never has.

The backbone of our agriculture is still the family farm. In times of dire need it can feed the nation. We all hope the DIRE NEED does not present itself, but don't be too sure it won't. Also don't forget what I told you about France regarding its agriculture as "her green oil" - she never forgets it.

Finally, I wish DEFRA a trouble-free year with its High Technology. Farmers have, unlike their EU counterparts been kept waiting months for payments due to them. When asked for the reason DEFRA say they have problems with the computer. So that's all right then. Whatever you may think about their computer it's a very convenient one - for DEFRA! What would I do? I would get a bigger handle so they could churn it faster. It's being so cheerful that keeps us going.