Welsh landowner Ross Murray is taking the helm at the Country Land and Business Association. Farmers Weekly asks the questions.
What is your goal for your time as president? Can we expect a different emphasis? What will you do differently?
“My focus is to ensure that MPs, ministers and others recognise that farming and other rural businesses are modern and innovative and play a critical role in their communities and the national economy.
“Part of this work will be to demonstrate – and secure support for – stewardship of the environment. The dangerous misconception that the best future for the countryside is to preserve it in aspic must be overcome.
Ross Murray – the new president at the CLA
Ross Murray and his wife, Elizabeth, run Llanover estate in Monmouthshire – a modern, diversified rural business, including agriculture, forestry and a fishery on the River Usk.
The estate includes a farm with Black Welsh Mountain sheep and a number of tenanted holdings, as well as the Llanover Business Park.
Mr Murray has a particular interest in the relationship between farming and national parks and has acted as a government-appointed member of Brecon Beacons National Park.
Mr Murray has been a part of the CLA presidential team for the past four years – as CLA vice-president, and then deputy president – before becoming president on 12 November.
“The CLA’s work on behalf of landowners and rural businesses will be more important than ever over the coming years, as we face uncertainty in relationships with Europe as well as inevitable change within UK, devolved and local government.”
Your presidency encompasses the run-up to the UK referendum on EU membership. Will the CLA be taking an “in” or “out” stance? Or will you be sitting on the fence?
“It will be for each CLA member to decide how to vote in a referendum when the time comes. The CLA’s priority is to ensure rural businesses – including farming, which dominates – can operate in a fiscal and regulatory framework that provides confidence and certainty, and allows investment and growth. This has to be the case whatever the outcome of a referendum.
“The CLA is focused on ensuring all sides and our members have a full understanding of the implications of continued membership or exit for rural business in the UK. That will be our focus throughout the run-up to an EU referendum.”
You have decided to stop running the annual CLA Game Fair. Yet the people taking it on must think it is viable. Why couldn’t the CLA make a go of it?
“We are proud of the game fairs we have run for more than half a century. Like many others, I have fantastic memories from years of running the CLA Game Fair and this was a difficult decision. A number of factors contributed to a decline in income from exhibitors, sponsors and attendees and it was not right to continue asking members to subsidise the event.
“We are very pleased that others in the industry will take over the mantle and that people will have the opportunity to attend game fairs next summer.
“The CLA will remain very active at regional shows and other events, continuing to bring people together to discuss issues that matter to rural communities, but we will not be partnering with any game fairs taking place next year.”
What is the CLA doing to ensure landowners are taking a constructive view towards tenant farmers who are, in the words of Lord Curry, facing a “perfect storm” due to the slump in commodity prices?
“The CLA is well known for considering a long-term perspective and this reputation carries great weight with the policymakers with whom the industry needs to engage. We continue to provide advice and support to help our members – many of whom farm as tenants as well as being landlords – to take a similar long-term and constructive view in their relationships with tenant farmers.
“It is in the best interests of all involved in the rural economy to see a robust tenant farming sector alongside a landlord sector prepared to invest, and it is vitally important to demonstrate that we work together.”
Outside of agriculture, what is the biggest single issue facing rural businesses and communities? What are you doing to meet that challenge?
“I’ve mentioned issues with broadband, and a lack of connectivity is one of the greatest barriers for rural business growth. Progress is being made but it is neither fast enough nor far-reaching enough. The CLA will keep the pressure on until government has committed to connect every premises in the country and has delivered on this commitment.
“Housing is also a defining issue – the countryside needs more housing of all tenures to be delivered if rural communities are to thrive, and this must be part of a coherent local housing plan.
“Landowners want to be part of the solution, but government policy and the planning system must allow this to happen. The CLA has had big wins in this area in recent years – such as the permitted development rights for agricultural building conversions – and we continue to press the countryside’s case to national government and local authorities.”
Harry Cotterell used social media to good effect during his time as CLA president to reach a wider audience; Henry Robinson not so much. Will you be reactivating your Twitter account?
“I’ll be speaking through our excellent external affairs team, who will be communicating on Twitter on my behalf.”
Ross Murray sets out vision for rural businesses
Monmouthshire landowner and chartered surveyor Ross Murray became Country Land and Business Association president on Thursday (12 November).
He succeeds Gloucestershire farmer Henry Robinson, who completes his two-year term as president of the membership organisation that represents more than 33,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses across England and Wales.
Mr Murray said he would use his time as CLA president to demonstrate the contribution of the countryside to the national economy. The CLA continues to go from strength to strength at a time of uncertainty over the UK’s relationship with Europe and challenging times for farming.
“Managing the land is an active business involving risk and investment,” said Mr Murray. “Rural businesses take the long view, managing and investing across generations, while remaining innovative and making a major contribution to the economy.”
Mr Murray, who has a number of farming and rural business interests, said he would also show how rural businesses differ from the more urbanised economy. “I look forward to taking our members’ message to the heart of government,” he added.
“The rural economy has agriculture at its heart, as well as protecting our heritage and the environment. Whatever the environmental, social and economic challenges we face, rural businesses are key to the solution.”