Westcountry MEP, farmer, and
Conservative agriculture spokesman|
There is no doubt that farming
is on the verge of collapse, and with rural incomes and optimism in the
future at an all time low, many of our farmers in the South West see
little prospect of survival.
Yet there is reason to believe that we
can make a future for ourselves if the right decisions are made. Firstly,
our farmers deserve to have their ideas and their proposals heard by those
in Whitehall. All around Europe, agriculture is valued enough to be
listened to and promoted by those in government.
It is hard to see
the farmers in France being so roundly ignored and dismissed by the French
government. Given the opportunity, farmers in the UK have as much flair,
entrepreneurship and business acumen as the dot.com gurus and high-tech
business leaders who seem so important to Tony Blair. However, there are a
number of key areas where if they wanted to, the Government could help us
over this current problem.
Firstly, they should apply for the
agri-money compensation available to us from Europe. There were good
reasons for not taking this EU cash in the past, but with farming at an
all-time low, it is unacceptable that the UK does not take this money
whilst farmers are going to the wall.
Secondly, they could address
the ridiculous situation over milk co-operatives. Farmers can simply not
survive when the price they receive for milk barely covers the cost of
Most importantly, when the discussions of reforming the
Common Agriculture Policy in Europe takes place in the next few months,
farmers need to see our Government resolutely defending their interests,
not simply selling them down the river in another EU deal.
salvation in these dark times may be the huge potential for quality
home-grown produce. Why is it that we will pay a small fortune for Parma
ham or Mediterranean sun-dried tomatoes, but we seem to dismiss the things
we grow in our own backyard?
We should be eating our own produce
because we know it is safe; we know it is quality, and we know exactly
where it comes from. Not only does it allows us to stand out from
lower-quality imported goods, by encouraging people to pay for the best,
it should also help to maximise profits. In addition to the farmers
markets, which seem destined to be a huge success, I want to see South
West produce championed in our restaurants and bistros. Visitors to the
region should be encouraged to sample Westcountry beef or lamb along with
their Devon cream teas and Somerset cider.
There is no doubt that
the future of our farming hangs in the balance. The 400,000 people who
took to the streets of London were voicing much more than their opposition
to a ban on hunting. They were venting the frustration and fear that has
come from being accused, ignored, abused and abandoned by Government
Ministers who have shown a contempt for country people and their way of
These are hardworking law-abiding citizens who expect their
contribution to society to be