Dorothy Fairburn: Gloom lifts as farmers get chance to try on new CAP

THIS time last year, following one of the wettest summers on record and a harsh onset of winter, the gloom in the farming industry was almost palpable. Twelve months on, and although there are significant challenges still facing Yorkshire farmers and landowners, there has undoubtedly been a general upturn in optimism and confidence in the economy.

First of all, after many years of political wrangling, the EU has finally arrived at an agreement on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), giving farmers a good idea of the level of support they will be receiving over coming years.

The overall structure of the new CAP will be very similar to what exists at present. The two pillars will be retained, the first concerned with direct payments, the second with rural development, including 
agri-environment schemes.

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The CLA successfully lobbied Defra for more money to go to both upland and moorland payment regions in areas such as ours, so that farmers in the most disadvantaged areas are targeted with more financial support under direct payments. Our priority now is to ensure that the implementation of the new rules does not add any additional bureaucracy and burden on to Yorkshire farmers and landowners.

As last year’s weather highlighted, resilience needs to be an integral part of a farm business plan – a sentiment that was echoed in the 2013 Northern Farming Conference at Hexham, which is supported by the CLA.

The keynote speaker, farming Minister George Eustice, was keen to explore options for safeguarding farm businesses and promised to consider new CLA proposals for a special reserve fund, which farmers could withdraw from during times of crisis.

On the political lobbying front, the CLA secured a major lobbying victory with the publication of new planning rules, which will allow farmers and landowners to convert agricultural buildings or empty premises, which are not in prime retail locations, into 
much-needed homes or businesses.

After calling on the Government to reform the planning rules on barn conversions for over a decade, these new rules will give much more flexibility to an entrepreneurially-minded farmer to develop or diversify their business and in doing so provide much-needed support to the local rural economy.

Of course, the relaxation of planning rules in rural areas has brought with it the inevitable headline-grabbing response from campaigning groups, predicting the dearth of our rural landscapes. The reality, however, is that
CLA members, many of whom run tourism, heritage and biodiversity-related businesses, have a vested interest in preserving our cherished countryside.

There is, nevertheless, an overwhelming need to provide jobs and affordable housing for young people in parts of rural Yorkshire – where house prices generally outstrip the average income by a huge margin – and the CLA will be working hard in 2014 to ensure a suitable balance between economic development and landscape preservation prevails.

For the rural economy to prosper in the 21st century, the provision of a fast and reliable broadband service is now a necessity rather than a luxury, but there are still too many parts of the region languishing in the digital slow lane.

The news that BT will be responsible for supplying the vast majority of superfast broadband in Yorkshire has raised concerns that much of the focus will be on making existing broadband even faster at the expense of more remote rural areas.

Indeed, many of the wi-fi schemes that are up and running in areas unable to access a fixed-line service have been delivered as a result of the enthusiasm and determination of local residents.

This is clearly not acceptable and the CLA will continue to apply pressure for a clearer focus on the needs of rural businesses as part of the continued roll-out of superfast broadband.

The CLA has also been busy 
over the last year fighting for a fairer compensation procedure 
for members who will be affected by blight through the development of the new HS2 train route.

Those who are losing land to the scheme are already being affected by the proposal which will sever many farms and businesses.

It is crucial these landowners are given some certainty over their futures and so we will continue to pressure Government to ensure that a fair compensation is awarded for their losses.

Last, but by no means least, the CLA welcomed the introduction of pilot badger culls in the South West, but this is just one of the many measures needed to bring the devastating bovine TB (bTB) disease under control.

Owing to policy decisions made over the last 20 years, reversing the spread of bTB will be neither fast nor easy, but the CLA has cautiously welcomed the Government’s proactive and long-term approach to the disease, based on risk-management.

• Dorothy Fairburn is regional director of the Country Land and Business Association