Farmers hold intense debate in tipi in West Bilney
Farmers from across Norfolk came together for an evening of information and, at times, quite challenging debate and discussion in the face of sweeping changes to UK farming.
Held in a large tipi in The Paddock at West Bilney, guest speakers, included Neville Cavendish, head of co-design at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Simon Lunnis of the Rural Payments Agency and James Dorrington, a farmer and part-time adviser to Defra.
Both addressed the gathered farming audience to talk about forthcoming schemes, such as the sustainable farming initiative and the raft of funds available under the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS).
The evening comprised three parts. Mr Cavendish and Mr Lunnis outlined the move from Basic Payments Scheme (BPS) to initiatives that paid for public services for public goods.
For his part, Mr Cavendish outlined what the aims of the schemes were, while Lunnis was able to offer advice on how farmers could access grants and funding.
He said: "The message from the RPA representative was clear. The BPS cheque in 2021 will be less than farmers may have been expecting. The scheme will come to a complete end in 2027 and so payments will reduce each year until then.
“If you have been determinedly avoiding any discussion about the new generation of schemes, that will be the first thing you notice.”
The second part of the evening saw a presentation from the evenings sponsor, Jonathan Chandler of FarmWatch Ltd. He warned farmers about the high prevalence of GPS theft, mainly from unattended machinery.
He added that good farm security consisted of more than one line of defence against thieves.
He said: "Just having a camera, or just having a gate is not really enough. Once the thieves have breached that, there is no other deterrent."
The final section of the evening was the most challenging, with a panel comprising the three guest speakers, plus David Sheppard, the director of international agricultural company ADM and Ed Lankfer, chairman of the Downham Market and Southery National Farmers Union.
Among the questions posed was one on food security at a time when the government are making trade deals with other countries, domestic labour shortages are causing problems and environmental issues seem to be taking precedence over food production.
Mr Lankfer said: "There has to be that balance where we are producing food to a high standard. You [DEFRA] are turning the government against us because you are telling the general public that we are using too much pesticide and too many insecticides but then you are wall-papering it over by importing low welfare products that have had chemicals we are not allowed to use and then selling them as British produce.
"We will ruin our industry if we don’t get support from the government. Don’t keep harping on about the environment to the detriment of food production."
Mr Cavendish answered that a wider discussion was taking place around the National Food Strategy, for example, than just the Future Farming Strategy and there would be a lot more broader discussions to be had.
Fakenham farmer Jimmy Goodley said: "I think it is shocking that food production isn’t considered a cornerstone of British society. People need to realise the impact of food on people’s health, of the impact on the NHS, once you understand that, it is not a hard message to communicate."
While David Sheppard expressed his worries about farmers reducing the amount of crops they were growing in favour of entering environmental schemes, he said: "On the positive side there is a whole load of innovation in terms of renewables, low-carbon fertiliser.
"There is a lot of stuff that is going to enable farmers to be low carbon producers or sequesters in the future. That is a new revenue scheme.
"But saying that, I don’t think the government are taking food production seriously enough."
The event was hosted by Sarah Juggins and Charlie Lankfer, the co-hosts of Farming Social Hub, a radio show that airs on KL-1 Radio every Sunday morning. The Tipi in the Paddock is a pop-up venue run by local chef and caterers Matthew and Caroline Owsley-Brown.
Refreshments were courtesy of Duration Brewing of West Acre.