May 10, 2022 7:30 AM
The Gazette and Herald published Wiltshire Liberal Democrat Cllr Brian Mathew's latest letter in this week's edition read on below for the full letter... 'Agricultural Risk'
This week has seen two important political developments for rural communities.
The first was the resignation of the disgraced Chair of the House of Commons Environment Food and Farming Committed Chair and MP for Tiverton & Honiton, Neil Parish for watching pornography in the Houses of Parliament. His resignation follows that of former Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Farming, Owen Patterson. Of course, that was followed by the sensational Lib Dem victory in his former North Shropshire Constituency. Difficult by-elections are staking up for Boris Johnson's Conservatives with others of his MPs facing prosecutions and investigations.
None of this does any favours for our parliamentary democracy.
The second development was far more positive. It was the decision of the former Vice President of the National Farmers Union and Conservative Councillor, Stuart Roberts to join the Lib Dems. His move highlights the complete lack of confidence farmers now have in the Conservatives supporting the agricultural industry through the biggest changes seen in a generation.
That fear and failure is reflected in the replies if Wiltshire farmers to Lib Dem Leader Sir Ed Davey's Farming Survey. These show that the phasing out of Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) support payments and its replacement with a new agricultural policy only offers to farmers a small proportion of the money lost. That disastrous decision may well put many farms out of business.
What's more, Johnson's government have already started to reduce payments without the replacement policy even being fit and ready. It's the smaller beef and sheep family farms that are at biggest risk, as without the BPS payment the vast majority fail to make any profit at all while they remain essential to feeding the nation.
The Tories failure to recognise the wider value that smaller family farms bring to rural communities and environmental land management, as well as contributing to the food supply chain is frightening.
The government's recent trade deals with Australia and NZ are another hammer blow for beef and lamb producers. Our UK farms produce to the highest standards of animal welfare and environmental standards in the world. These add to our cost of food production but are the right thing to do. Our farmers simply cannot compete with these cheap food imports produced with much lower standards and costs.
Finally, this Government's policy makes no mention of food security. That is astonishing as the vile Russian attack on Ukraine puts bread, sunflower oil and much more at serious risk.
As Mr Roberts says in his announcement, the Lib Dem Leader and our growing band of rural MPs are listening and responding to the real needs of our farmers and rural communities. As a result, I suspect that group of rural Lib Dem MPs is set to grow again as and when the Tiverton & Honiton By-election votes are counted.
Dr Brian Mathew
Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet member for the Environment
& Wiltshire Councillor for Box & Colerne