It has been frustrating watching farmers on lighter ground getting out and about. Our heavy weald clay takes longer to drain and can quickly turn to concrete. We have been loath to cause any more damage to the soil structure and create deep ruts, so have held fire and hopefully we can now catch up.
I find it increasing hard to feel any empathy or understanding of the purpose of a number of government Quangos. Nor can I decide if they are doing the job of Brussels or Westminster, I suspect the former. The pity is that our representatives in Westminster who should be protecting our interests appear either disinterested or powerless to intervene.
The hair brained directive suggested by Natural England as reported last week, will make it compulsory for farmers to shoo pigeons, which are destructive vermin, off our crops before shooting them. This is a fine example where it is obvious that there has been no consultation with arable farmers. Margaret Beckett tried this in 2005, the fact that it has resurfaced is sinister.
Brussels stated long ago that it would prefer the UK not to produce food and to cease farming. The plan was that our ‘green and pleasant land’ should be the playground of Europe, not a vibrant working environment where farmers make a healthy living through food production and diversification.
It would appear that the South Downs National Park Authority has also picked up this message and is acting as another hand maiden of the EU. Having read its latest Partnership Management Plan 2014 – 2019 cover to cover over the weekend, (more on this next week) it is clear that the plan is to create an environment within the Park which is unsustainable for farm businesses. The fact that 85% of the SDNP is owned and managed by the farming community appears to be irrelevant to their plans.
A good example is a local matter reported in the Farmers Weekly, ‘Farmer builds tea room …but can’t sell tea.’
Markus and Liz Saich are planning to open their Farm Shop and Tea Room in time for Easter at Wayfield Farm, Pyecombe. They are struggling to explain to the SDNPA that so far neither tea nor coffee are grown within the SDNP or for that matter in the UK.
The Park Authority planning department imposed a Condition on the enterprise which restricts them from selling anything which has not been produced either on this farm or within the SDNP. This is despite having given planning permission for the Farm Shop and Café.
The primary reason for investing £150,000 in this new enterprise is to sell their pure Sussex beef cattle directly to the public. Thus adding value to their beef enterprise, as well as offering a vital outlet to other farmers for their produce including pork, lamb, game when in season, cheese, fruit and vegetables
Wayfield Farm is located on the outskirts of Brighton and has the South Down’s Way running across its fields. This new enterprise offers an additional opportunity for the residents of Brighton and other local towns and villages to support farming businesses. It also will provide jobs for residents of Pyecombe.
The butchery will be the prime attraction, but there will also be a varied selection of food and drink, mostly sourced from within the local area. It is both necessary and practical to ensure customers return regularly, that there is a certain amount of flexibility regarding what is sold and where the products are sourced.
Cllr Ricky Bower who is chairman of the Sussex Downs and Low Weald LEADER Local action Group said in his letter of support for the shop,’ he was happy to support the project but had particular concerns regarding the overly restrictive planning conditions imposed by the SDNPA.’
The National Farmers’ Retail and Marketing Association (FARMA) of which Markus Saich is a member, developed the following recommendations for planning permission for farm shops.
Local Component: at least 40% of products should be from the farm, and from the local area defined as up to 30 miles from the farm boundaries.
Regional Component: up to 40% of products should be from the region (county and surrounding counties)
Flexible Component: up to 20% of products can be sourced from elsewhere.
These guidelines are sensible and workable, a blueprint which the SDNPA would do well to adopt, thus making farm shops and tea rooms within the Park able to operate and trade on a level playing field. The condition being imposed upon Wayfield Farm immediately puts this enterprise at a disadvantage to other farm shops which have no such restrictions.
As Markus Saich said, “This is my farm, my mortgage and my livelihood which is at stake. Why should they be allowed to dictate what I can and cannot sell?”
Is it too much to expect the SDNPA to lift this onerous and unreasonable Condition forthwith, and adopt the sensible recommendations that FARMA have embraced?
I wonder if a representative from the Park Authority will attend the opening to wish Markus and Liz success with their excellent new enterprise into which they have already invested so much of their time, energy and resources.
Carola Godman Irvine