With the General Election looming, North East farmers, currently facing increased pressures from all fronts, will be naturally anxious to ensure the next Government prioritises agriculture - and does everything it can to protect it, securing its long-term future.
With this in mind, the NFU is hosting two hustings events - one relating to the Hexham constituency, the other to the Berwick constituency - giving locals the chance to quiz their prospective MPs on food and farming policies.
All the main parties - Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Labour, UKIP and Green - will be represented. But what exactly would the farming organisation like reassurances on?
The answer lies in a manifesto drawn up recently, setting out five key policy challenges- along with 48 detailed recommendations - focussed on the short, medium and long-term.
“I want the next government to work with the NFU to set an agenda for growth, building on the professionalism and confidence of British farmers,” said NFU president, Meurig Raymond.
“I sincerely believe that these are practical and easily implementable actions that, if adopted, will deliver growth and benefits for both the country and countryside and by which political parties can clearly demonstrate their commitment to the future of this most essential of industries.”
First on the list is the need to invest in growth, the NFU stressing that the next Government must set a secure and consistent framework mindful that 90% of farm businesses are sole traders or partnerships.
Government departments, recognising the importance of agricultural and food production, should also tackle excessive regulation and ensure its CAP strategy is driven less by ideology and is more concerned with achieving reforms that will best serve the interests of British farming.
Secondly, under the heading of securing knowledge and technology, the NFU is calling for a functioning research pipeline and effective knowledge exchange infrastructure so farmers can benefit from government-funded research. Decision making, it has emphasised, must be based on robust scientific evidence.
Animal and plant health should likewise be protected, with urgent action being taken to stop the spread of diseases like TB, and to address the “extremely worrying” trend of active ingredients in agrichemicals for crop production being banned.
Fair, safe and secure food chains should also be established, the NFU says, suggesting that consumers are being let down by some public and private sector procurement.
“Farmers, processors and consumers deserve a properly functioning food chain with the principle of fairness, transparency and sustainability at its core,” the manifesto says.
Finally, with farmers playing a key role “as guardians of the nation’s landscape and wildlife”, managing environmental footprint is vital.
“But environment and climate change policy needs to go hand in hand with growth in production,” the manifesto stresses.
More resilient ways of tackling managing flood risk should also be found, alongside a rethink over funding for flood defence, placing appropriate emphasis on the value of farming to the country.
NFU Northumberland county adviser, Samantha Davies, said: “With less than three months before the general election, it is vital that food and farming is recognised for the key role it plays, not only in producing food but for its contribution to the country’s economy and the environment – with the local farmed landscape attracting thousands of tourists every year.
“It takes years of commitment, on-going investment, time and care to rear good quality beef and dairy animals; plant, nurture and harvest crops; protect soils and manage the land. This is a long-term business that needs long-term thinking from the next government.
“Our hustings events offer a great chance for local members to meet their prospective MPs and find out exactly how they would respond to these challenges.”
The events will take place on March 18, at Alnwick Rugby, from 7pm, and on March 20, at Hexham Mart, from 7pm.
To book a place, call 01904 451550 or email email@example.com.