Farmers debate Brexit at Swaffham breakfast meeting

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Dozens of farmers met in Swaffham yesterday to discuss how the industry needs to respond to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

The breakfast meeting, which was held at the Kings Arms in the Market Place, was one of a series of sessions organised by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) to establish members’ views on Brexit and what should happen now.

Ken Proctor, an NFU council member for Norfolk, admitted that the vote to leave had not been welcomed by many of his fellow members.

But he added: “It’s here and we’ve got to make the most of it.”

The NFU is currently preparing a report looking at options in a number of areas, including trade, access to labour, financial support and regulation, following the Brexit vote.

The Swaffham session was one of three held across Norfolk this week, in which members were given the chance to have their say on the issues as the report is compiled.

A series of regional meetings will take place next month before the final draft document is put to the union’s ruling council in October.

Mr Proctor acknowledged that continuing access to workers from overseas was particularly important to vegetable producers in West Norfolk.

And Edward Stanton, who farms at Snettisham, said he was aware that some producers were looking to bring in workers from outside Europe.

But Mr Proctor said the key priority was to ensure that the entire industry remained sustainable for future generations, adding: “It’s up to us to get that right.”

And David Hill, who farms near Bradenham, said the vote to leave gave Britain the chance to set its own policies, particularly in areas of bio-technology.

He said: “We need a new revolution in agriculture.”

The meeting took place amid calls for a total re-think of the way in which farm subsidies are paid from the director general of the National Trust, Dame Helen Ghosh.

She said: “Whatever your view of Brexit, it gives us an opportunity to think again about how and why we use public money to create the countryside we want to hand on to future generations.

“Unless we make different choices, we will leave an environment that is less productive, less rich and less beautiful than that which we inherited.

“Taxpayers should only pay public subsidy to farmers in return for things that the market won’t pay for but are valued and needed by the public.”

Mr Stanton, whose farm includes 150 acres of grassland, said it was vital to maintain the balance between food production and environmental stewardship.

But he admitted changes to subsidies that did not recognise the importance of sustainability work would have a direct impact on his operations and the wider area.

He said: “If that’s not supported, I will have to get my plough out, plough it back up and put it back into crops. That’s not good for the environment.”