Time to deliver as party of the countryside

Three weeks of party conferences, three different political parties, one message from each: “We are the party of the countryside”.

After years of being neglected by politicians, it seems that food and farming is back on the agenda, and MPs with agricultural briefs are willing to fight over who is going to lead the way.

From reform of the Common Agricultural Policy to supermarket power, culling badgers, the abolition of Agricultural Wages Board and food security, everyone has an opinion.

The conference halls and hotels of Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester have been alive with a multitude of claims and pledges. The problem is as yet very little action has been seen.

“Shows real promise, but needs to turn potential to hard and fast results,” was NFU president Peter Kendall’s end-of year-report on the current ministerial team this week and the majority of farmers would no doubt agree.

Agriculture has been fairly forgiving to the current Tory DEFRA team bearing in mind it has yet to deliver on any of the pledges the party made during its years in opposition.

Yes, it has made the bold step to put forward plans for a pilot badger cull to tackle the devastating effects that bovine TB is having on livestock farmers in England.

It has agreed to assess the amount of agricultural red tape that is in place in an effort to make farmers’ lives easier.

It has rejected the typical anti-EU stance of the Conservative Party by engaging wholeheartedly in CAP reform talks and it has pressed forward with plans to introduce an ombudsman to monitor retailer and producer relationships.

But if positive action does not happen soon – and without clear indication that the Treasury recognises the importance of farming and supports it – then that forgiving mood may start to slip.

So it is essential that UK agriculture starts to see some changes.

A new-look CAP needs to put British farmers on an even keel with those in Europe and cannot leave them disadvantaged by taking steps ahead of other countries.

A trial badger cull needs to be given the nod – even if those trials deduce that a cull is not the total solution and further measures need to be considered.

And the red tape that hinders farmers from producing more with fewer inputs needs to be stripped down and simplified.

The Conservatives have long-claimed to be the party of the countryside. This was long before shadow DEFRA minister Mary Creagh tried to claim the title at last week’s Labour conference. After 18 months in power, the Conservative’s need to start living up to that reputation.

Editorial by FW Midlands correspondent Caroline Stocks

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