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WORD ON THE GROUND: Decision time for farming and horticulture

It seems a long time since we’ve had a lengthy cold spell. The recent snowy weather reminds me of similar weather that we had regularly in the 1980’s.

Back then, at the start of my farming career, things were very different.

There was no Red Tractor type assurance schemes, research and development was provided by ADAS and fully financed by government. Casual labour came no further than from Wisbech.

Grower Richard Barlow. (43035707)
Grower Richard Barlow. (43035707)

Now, the day of our Red Tractor assurance scheme audit is probably the most stressful day of the year.

Not because we have anything to hide, just fearful we won’t have that bit of paper, in a file, with a policy statement that is demanded by the protocol.

Red Tractor is currently going through a review. With more shoppers taking an interest in how and where their food is grown, it is an essential tool for those who market what we grow.

Standards do need reviewing periodically. The danger is that those doing the review make their living from writing the protocols and likely to recommend changes to guarantee themselves work rather than improved quality assurance.

Instead of ADAS (Agricultural Developments and Advisory Service) we have the AHDB (Agriculture and Horticultural Development Board) which is funded by a mix of government money and a levy growers’ pay on their sales.

The need for it is currently being challenged in a ballot.

With the support agriculture gets from the state currently being formalised in the new Agriculture Bill, it seems foolish to send the message that we aren’t willing to put any of our money into R&D or generic marketing but still expect the government to pay support for farming.

For the last 20 years all our seasonal labour has come from eastern Europe. That door has been slammed shut.

The politicians’ response is that there are enough people in the UK to do this work.

Well there are not in south Lincolnshire. Working in fields is often cold, wet, has unsociable hours and is very physical.

Unfortunately the welfare/educational system has bred several generations who will not do such work and certainly, understandably, wouldn’t move here to do it.

Belatedly the government has expanded SAWS (Seasonal Agriculture Workers Scheme) which allows a controlled number of foreign workers to come for a limited number of months each year.

Ornamental businesses are not allowed to use the scheme as only food production is classified as essential, but shouldn’t the mental happiness a bunch of flowers brings in these grim times have a value?

Fortunately we have the NFU(National Farmers Union) which does a fabulous but difficult job for such a diverse industry.

They can access the heart of government and do influence many of the policy decisions that come out of Whitehall. Without them fighting our corner, we’d be pinned under even more stringent rules, regulations and paperwork.

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