|This article appeared in the Summer 2007
edition of the Norfolk Federation of Young Farmers' magazine 'Just Do
Farmers make Norfolk what it is
Recently, I was lucky enough to take a helicopter flight over my South Norfolk constituency. As we swooped low over villages and open countryside I was again reminded just how beautiful Norfolk is and what a great place it is to live and work. I was also reminded that the countryside we all enjoy is not the result of a happy accident, but that it has been shaped by generations of farmers who continue to play a key role in caring for it.
Norfolk’s farmers are at the heart of the county’s £5.9 billion agriculture and food sector, an industry which provides over 20 per cent of the county’s employment, with around 16,000 people working directly on Norfolk’s farms. Farming continues to be one of our most important industries, which is vital for the future of Norfolk. No one who cares about this county and its beautiful countryside can afford to take farmers for granted.
Unfortunately, over recent years farming across Britain has had its fair share of struggles and heartaches. No one can deny that farmers have had an exceptionally difficult time recently, facing low commodity prices, rising costs and animal diseases like BSE and Foot and Mouth. They have also endured the scandal of the Rural Payments Agency and the government’s mishandling of the single farm payment. This has been an utter disgrace and in any other walk of life the person ultimately in charge would be sacked. Under this government, she was made foreign secretary. The economics of farming have not got any easier and so it is hardly surprising that there are plenty of pessimists who see a bleak future in agriculture.
However, every year just outside Norwich, Norfolk’s farmers come together to prove the pessimists wrong. Like me, you will already have the 2007 Royal Norfolk Show as a firm date in your diaries. The show is the premier agricultural event in England and an excellent showcase for Norfolk’s farmers. For example, last year one of the major supermarkets showed off Norfolk-grown tomatoes with the grower’s name clearly labelled, proving that supermarkets are beginning to understand the need to support local producers. I hope they keep it up and I applaud the Norfolk Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs for putting local produce at the heart of their display at this year’s Royal Norfolk Show.
Many people want to eat locally produced food wherever possible for a variety of reasons. Some shoppers want to back local farmers, whilst others want to support animal welfare or limit carbon emissions. Many consumers also realise that food pumped with preservatives and hauled long distances often tastes second rate. The government should also be doing more. It spends £1.8 billion each year buying food for the public sector, but not enough of the food it buys is sourced locally.
The demand for quality local produce is there and
I believe that British consumers want to support British farmers and
British food. We all have our part to play. The government needs to
spend its £1.8 billion more wisely than it has in the past. As
consumers, we can try and buy quality produce from local producers.
Ultimately it is up to farmers to seize the opportunity this
represents. I am sure they will.
|© Richard Bacon 2010|