North East Labour MEP Paul Brannen has met with a delegation of NFU members to discuss the challenges and strengths of the farming industry in the North East.
Mr Brannen, who has been appointed to the EU Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, spoke with NFU Northumberland county chairman David Robson about the organisation’s manifesto, launched last week in advance of next year’s general election,
He likewise met with arable farmer Jack Story in Stannington. to witness North East farming first-hand.
Among the subjects discussed throughout the day were the so-called three crop rule, greening measures, permanent pasture, sheep tagging, organic farming and the complexity of regulations coming down from Europe.
“I’m a new MEP and I’m new to the committee,” said Mr Brannen, whose visit formed part of a wider fact finding tour of the region.
“I don’t have a background in agriculture - which has disadvantages, from one point of view, but, from another, I don’t have a dog in the fight, so I don’t have an agenda.”
He told The Journal that Europe wished to help farmers, not hinder them, but that a “one size fits all” approach often brought unintended problems.
“Having met with the farmers, we have agreed that we should meet again regularly, maybe four times a year,” Mr Brannen said. “Not only will that be good for my own knowledge, but it also means it’s a real dialogue.
“If, then, I could have a similar quarterly meeting with farmers in County Durham, that would also be productive.”
A member of Newcastle City Council for five years, Mr Brannen went on to run as a parliamentary candidate first for Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1997, then for Hexham in 2001.
He stressed that his latest role did not just revolve around agricultural businesses, but also dealt with issues - like broadband speeds - that affected the whole rural community.
Rising unemployment, he added, was as much of a problem in rural areas as it was in urban ones.
On the subject of the NFU manifesto, he said: “I think it’s very good - and it’s a very reasonable document too.”
“I will be out and about in the region making sure that people feel connected to the EU,” Mr Brannen added. “It’s really important to see things in person and it allows me to represent the North East region better on the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.
“Agriculture is a bigger part of the North East regional economy than many people realise.”
NFU County Chairman David Robson said “We were so pleased to meet Paul and have the opportunity to talk Mr Brannen through our priorities for farming in the region. By backing British farming and working together, we have a unique opportunity to increase food production by supporting the research, investment and growth.”
Mr Story said: “It was great to be able to show Paul around my farm and I am sure it will help him advocate for the region at a European Level.”