Friday, 3 April 2009

The future of farming

This morning we had a breakfast meeting at Trevaskis Farm for a group of 20 farmers in the constituency. Richard Benyon, a member of our DEFRA team, is in Cornwall and it was a good opportunity for him to hear some of the challenges facing the farming industry down here so that he can go back with ideas for change. Our discussion covered everything from the Agicultural Wages Board to TB, supermarkets, labour availability and the bureaucracy of DEFRA.

It was good to see so many old friends again. Until nine years ago, I was a farmer in this part of Cornwall. Some of the challenges farmers face are the same now as they were then. But there have been major changes too.

Dairy farming here has contracted sharply over the last decade or so with a handful of large producers left where once there would have been dozens of family farms. The veg industry has been transformed too. Ten years ago a farmer with 100 acres of winter cauliflowers (or broccoli as we call them down here)would have been considered a large player. Now most of the industry is controlled by two big producers each growing 3000-4000 acres.

Camborne, Redruth and Hayle is the home of much of Cornwall's field scale horticultural industry: vegetables, daffodils and potatoes. The first two are very labour intensive and rely heavily on student Labour from Eastern Europe.

There is a real need to reform the benefits system in this country so that the long term unemployed who are currently trapped on benefits can be helped back into work. It has to start somewhere. Doing part time work or taking short term jobs is the first step back in to working life. And getting people off benefits and into work is crucial, not only for our economy, but for our society which benefits from an ethos of endeavor. Children do better when they have parents who are working role models. As we head into another recession with rising unemployment, helping people back into work will be more important than ever.