We don't appreciate our farmers enough for what they do, writes the Frome MP in his latest column

  Posted: 04.05.21 at 12:45 by The Editor

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The local MP David Warburton writes:

Frome is fortunate to be surrounded by sumptuous nature. The town’s myriad charms, its unique character and sense of permanence is rooted in the fact that – to borrow from Shakespeare – it’s a little world. A precious stone set in the green sea.

And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that last week was Great British Beef Week. Perhaps I should clarify. Not beef as in grievance (which wouldn’t be a great week at all), but beef as in what comes from the farms encircling Frome.

So last week in Parliament we debated the successes, challenges and hurdles ahead for beef and dairy produce. And I have to say it was good to speak within the walls of Parliament itself, rather than talking to a camera while fending off the dog.

As for all of us, the past year has meant unprecedented times for farmers, so I grabbed the opportunity to pay tribute to Somerset’s farming community in rising to these challenges. When people feared the town’s supermarkets and shops would run dry of produce early in the pandemic, our food producers girded their loins, rolled up their sleeves and ensured that fears were assuaged and demand was met.

But it’s not just food production. As I travel through the glorious Somerset countryside, it’s impossible not to marvel at the contribution that farmers make to managing our landscape. And I don’t think it’s often fully appreciated. Farming must go hand in hand with the sustainability of the landscape and, happily, our farmers really do lead the world in agricultural standards, animal welfare and sustainable farming practices.

The Frome MP with festival organisers Bev and Sarah Milner-Simonds

With the focus of this year’s Great British Beef Week being sustainability, it’s worthwhile highlighting just some of the ways our farming is among the most sustainable in the world. To scatter some examples, the greenhouse gas footprint of UK milk production is just 40% of the global average and British dairy and beef aims to be, and is fully on track to be, carbon neutral by 2040. Staggeringly, over the last 40 years, farmers across the country have increased woodland areas equivalent to four times the size of Greater London.

I could go on, but I’ll spare you for now. There’s no doubt that the environmental contribution of farming mustn’t be overlooked - in addition to the flame it gently burns under our rural economy and the way of life we enjoy.

The new and snappily titled Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership now gives us a wealth of opportunity across the Asian, American and Australasian continents, with lucrative markets for our produce. That’s great news for dairy producers, easing further their trade with Canada and Australia. And we can deliver pork and poultry to Vietnam, beef to Japan and mutton to Malaysia. But of course, while we want trade partnerships, they must not be at the expense of food standards for our own imports.

I've voted consistently to enshrine the Government’s guarantee of no decline in standards into law and I’ll continue to do so, while appreciating government concerns around the wording of the legislation.  But we need certainly and clarity.

And, given the political seismic shifts over the past few years of course, it’s been harder than ever for Somerset’s farmers – and, indeed, for most of us - to have any kind of clarity. I hope the Government hears us, sees that and continue to act in a way that smooths the path to give our farmers clear sight of the future. The future is bright, but these have been dark times, and we have to light the way carefully and clearly.

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