Farmers are occasionally guilty of complaining about issues over which they believe they have no control - the weather, commodity markets and legislation emanating particularly from Europe.
But are they all really beyond our control? Well the weather certainly is, thankfully. Imagine the arguments if we could control that! Prices delivered by commodity markets too are largely beyond our control but we can mitigate their effects with clever marketing tools.
When it comes to legislation and politicians, it may seem that the EU is remote and out of touch but having just got back from a trip to Brussels, I now see that while we may not have a lot of ‘control’, we certainly have plenty of opportunity to influence what goes on.
My visit was part of a delegation of 21 Yorkshire farmers hosted by Yorkshire and Humber MEP Timothy Kirkhope. While there we met one of his colleagues Richard Ashworth MEP, a member of the Agriculture Committee. He highlighted many of the issues he’s working on – all of which were issues my fellow farmers would be keen to influence.
But getting the result we want is no easy task. The UK elects just 73 of the 751 MEPs, who together represent 500 million people in 28 member states. Crucial to the legislative process, MEPs are constantly being lobbied by different people on different issues. As a result, Brussels is a city of political lobbyists with an estimated 15,000-30,000 people all jockeying for position. If you can think of any issue there will be someone in Brussels who is lobbying on it.
This brings to mind two well-known phrases: ‘It is the squeaky wheel that gets oiled’ and ‘The world is run by the people who show up’. I admit that the EU is far from perfect, but while we are members, it’s vital to have strong and effective representation there, as a nation and an industry.
Most of the legislation that comes out of Brussels is the result of at least two years of horse-trading both between and within the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. So to protect the interests of British agriculture and influence the direction of travel, we must ‘show up’. Thankfully the UK farming unions including the NFU, NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers’ Union have had an office in Brussels since 1973.
Our delegation discussed a number of issues with Mr Ashworth. A pressing concern for arable farmers like me is the potential threat to the availability of plant protection products (PPPs). Environmental lobby groups have a strong voice in Europe. Many would like to see the use of PPPs severely reduced or banned completely - a message that chimes with MEPs because they get correspondence about it from their electorate.
But from a food production point of view, having access to a wide range of PPPs is essential so we must work hard to highlight the importance of a scientific basis for decision making, encouraging MEPs to review all the evidence.
This is more effective if supported by letters from those who will be affected by EU legislation, explaining the impact it will have on them or their business. So please take the time to contact your regional MEPs to explain your concerns over any current or planned EU legislation. It’s easy to email them, with addresses readily available on the European Parliament website and many are using social media.
Richard Boldan is an NFU member and farms near Howden in the East Riding.