the young farmers of cumbria

I first met the Cumbrian Young Farmers on a charity bike ride, last Spring. Steve Pattinson of Kinkry Hill and I were moving between pubs on a hot afternoon and I was puffing up the hill on a tiny bike without gears. We came round the corner to the Black Lion at Hethersgill and found two hundred people, waving banners and toasting each other in the street. I had been told as a new MP to avoid compromising pictures. I wasn’t sure whether that included being photographed being kissed by three girls in furry cow costumes. It was a great introduction to the crowd and I have seen many of the people who were on that bike ride again at farms from Bewcastle to the Howgills, at the Northern Field day, at the Cumberland, Skelton and Penrith shows, at the marts, and in the street. And I have promised to do the entire cycle-ride in 2011, although not with a pint in every pub.

I am setting up a Young Farmers’ advisory committee. We will meet regularly to talk about the future of farming in Cumbria. Our focus will be on Cumbria’s unique needs. I am a real admirer of the NFU and would like to see it fight even harder in government but it is forced to represent farmers right across the country. And clearly a fenland Barley Baron has very different interests, views on subsidies and policy than a hill-farmer in Bewcastle. Even within Penrith and the Border there are vast differences between dairy on the Solway plain and commons above Dufton. I am hoping that the Young Farmers’ group will help me to understand more and more about those different needs, so that I can fight our corner in government. Farmers know more, care more and understand more about land management than any quango or civil servant. Government has to learn how to learn from farmers and benefit from their depth of experience, their passion and their commonsense. They have to learn to listen.

We can all see things which need to be done immediately: making sure the milk ombudsman has real power; and challenging daft new regulations like the EID tagging for sheep. And we can see things, which government can do to improve rural services from roads to broadband.   But the most important fight, I believe, is going to be the CAP renewal in Brussels in the next two years. We must make sure that Cumbrian voices are properly represented in that process. So I will be working to persuade every DEFRA minister to visit Cumbria, will be going to Brussels myself and will be talking continually to groups like the Young Farmers’ advisory group to make sure I am carrying the right message.

Being an MP is a great honour. And on a bike ride, very enjoyable. But I will, of course, only be any good at the job if I listen and learn from the right people. I am immensely grateful for all the time that Cumbrian farmers have put into teaching me. I intend to work very hard to make sure their advice becomes policy.


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