by Alan Davies, FUW managing director
Some are fun, some you’ve got to go to because, well you just have to. And some you know you’ll have a great time at. But the ones that have been occupying our thoughts and time this month have been the Political Parties and more importantly their Spring conferences. Union officials have attended four of the party conferences in march and have not only met with a lot of politicians and party members, but we have also tried to change and widen some of our messages. The #Farmingmatters message is still there, but the main focus this month has been on telling people about the great things that farmers do. In political speak it’s probably called “reaching out” to a wider audience to help them understand the role of farmers in far more than just the producing great food idea. Politically we face some challenging battles: not least for funding support to the industry in the future. And the more people that can see and understand the value of farming the better. As one politician said to me recently: “We need to make sure money goes to farming and not to hip replacements!” and I think that sums up the challenge very well. Whatever happens after Brexit, whether we jump or fall off a cliff, or glide down smoothly with parachutes attached, there will be competition for funding. Whoever ends up managing the agricultural budget will be doing so for the first time – possibly ever – and will be in a position where they will have to justify budgets, arguing for every penny as Governments and Cabinets “fight” for the cash to run their departments. With those two big changes the more friends we have the better and I don’t just mean political friends. The wider consumer population needs to know and understand more about farming and the way it links to communities, to ways of life, to rural economies. They need to understand the challenges, the physical and emotional effort that goes into producing food of the highest standard, whilst also managing resources to get the best from them. They need to know that support for agriculture is not simply support for farmers, because all such support delivers an economic dividend of about 7:1, that is: for every £1 of support into agriculture, over £7 of economic activity is generated. They need to know that farming and farmers add so much to the lives of all consumers in the country. They create landscapes, manage natural resources, provide jobs in rural areas, preserve skills and language that otherwise might die out. And in doing all that they also produce great food. We cannot be shy in shouting about this; if nobody knows our story it will be difficult to get the support we need to create a bright future. We need to spread the word that #Farmingmatters in so many ways and when it comes to choosing between farming or hip replacements, we hope that our friends at the party will say that farming wins.