Farmers are crucial – especially now

As the days start to lengthen our farmers have turned, or are just about to turn, their energies to lambing and the cycle of growth and birth.

We begin a new season with hope as the vaccine continues its impressive roll out and the data starts to move in the right direction. Roy Castle told us we needed dedication. Now I think we all need buckets of hope. Crops springing up, woodland flowers emerging and new life in our fields.

I have a very clear memory of the General Election campaign of 2015. I was in my office in Blandford. A lady called and said she had received four leaflets from me all mentioning farming – ‘why?’ I suddenly had a fear that a rogue deliverer had inadvertently delivered in Bournemouth or Poole. I asked her where she lived and her reply was ‘Sturminster Newton’. She said: ‘We’re not a farming area around here’. We had an amicable conversation and whether she voted for me or not I have no way of telling.

I have thousands of conversations and interactions with constituents so why should that one stick in my mind? We of course live in an agricultural area but her not thinking we did shocked me. I know, as your MP, the huge role our farmers play. We live in an area where the long-term future of farming is vital.

Much of our landscape and views have been shaped and formed by man’s intervention on the land to produce our food and meld our environment. Much of today’s North Dorset could still be recognisable to Thomas Hardy’s characters solely because of farming. Talk to any farmer and they will describe themselves as custodians or guardians. ‘The land’ is in their DNA. Perhaps it is because it is all around us that we do not see it, just as my caller didn’t. But we must.

Agriculture contributes more to the UK economy than the automotive sector. It is a significant employer and exporter. Our farming and food production standards are high and will continue to be so. I have championed them in the Commons, occasioning my first rebellion against a Three Line Whip. It is our standards and qualitythat make UK produce strongly performing exports. The recently enacted Agriculture Act (the first since 1947) has much to recommend it. Food production continues to be important and we have replaced the rather dead calculation of x acres = y subsidy to what you do with your x acres = y subsidy.

The environmental contribution that farming makes can be substantial but it is true that it is a carbon generator. The NFU and many other lobby/pressure groups are making real strides in reducing carbon output. The deployment of AgriTech (using technology across all aspects of farming) is playing its part in a farmer’s life.

Covid demonstrated fragility in some supply chains. It also demonstrated that while we could survive without a gym visit (not me obvs), a round of golf or a nail bar session (I plead the 5th) we cannot survive without food. Farmers and food producers rose to the occasion magnificently as they do day in a day out to keep quality food on our shelves. So, as we start to glimpse spring let us thank and salute farmers: food producers, environmental custodians, reformers, innovators but perhaps more importantly a key, respected and cherished element of our life here in North Dorset.

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