As the new Regional Director of the Countryside Land and Business Association (CLA) in the Midlands and my first column for the Shropshire Star, it seems the perfect time to look back on what has been a politically and economically challenging year for the farming industry, and that is without mentioning the changeable weather conditions. One word that really stands out to me when I think about the farming community is resilience.
With longstanding links to the region, having lived in Shropshire for most of my life, I am and always have been passionate about rural matters. A healthy rural economy relies on a healthy agricultural sector. In a world that is suffering economically thanks to two years of Covid19, the war in Ukraine affecting food exports, changing weather patterns from excessive rainfall to extreme dry spells destroying crops and causing wildfires, and now energy prices all adding to the cost of living crisis which is having a huge impact on both farmers and consumers.
Having visited a variety of members over the last year, I have been amazed at the amount of business diversifications I have come across. From glamping to solar farms and even ice cream production, we are nothing if not creative, and this is not so that farmers can leave the industry but so they can remain. I have been overwhelmed to see so many members come forward to take in Ukrainian refugees into their homes. Again, I think this shows a kindness within an industry which is struggling itself but is still keen to help others in need.
Thanks to CLA lobbying and influence, one of the most exciting highs for this year was in April when the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Rural Powerhouse landmark report on levelling up the rural economy was published
This highlighted that as we moved towards the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), there was a lack of detail on what future support would be available to farmers hindering planning and investment. Following the speech given by Secretary of State, Dr Thérèse Coffey, at the CLA Rural Business Conference in early December, we eagerly await greater detail about ELMS payments to be announced in January. The rural sector is ready to grow, to create jobs and opportunities – but a lack of interest, and an understanding of rural needs is preventing this.
Another stand out moment was a change in the Hare Coursing legislation, which was welcomed by the CLA following work with several rural and environmental groups and the development of the Hare Coursing Action Plan back in 2018. Hare Coursing has long been linked with abusive and aggressive behaviour towards land owners and has been prevalent in our region for too long. The new measures allow law enforcement to increase a maximum penalty to an unlimited fine along with the possibility of up to six months imprisonment and two new criminal offences which will give extra powers to the courts including being able to disqualify convicted offenders from owning or keeping dogs.
It was wonderful to see the return of so many well attended agricultural shows. Shows really are at the heart of the farming community and provide the rare opportunity to spend some time away from the day to day routine showing animals and produce or socialising with others in the industry. We all understand how important mental health and wellbeing is and how lacking the support for this can be, particularly within the farming sector. Shows and community events are important for providing relief for this.
I hope that in early 2023 we will have answers to some of the questions being posed by farming and rural communities and that we can build on the positive outcomes from this year. We will continue to lobby in parliament on your behalf to ensure our sector is able to fulfil its full potential.
Merry Christmas and I wish you a prosperous New Year!