Green debates Brexit Future for Farmers

Ellie Chowns - Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (North)
Ellie Chowns – Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (North) and Secretary (North)

North Herefordshire’s Green Party parliamentary challenger Dr Ellie Chowns last week debated post-Brexit agriculture policy in front of an audience of more than 60 agriculture students and staff at Hartpury College, Gloucestershire, outlining  the important choices ahead if we are to get the best future for our food and farming sector.

In the debate with MP Bill Wiggin, Dr Chowns emphasised the need to combine support for family farms and rural communities while also increasing food security and environmental benefits. She referenced two new reports commissioned by Green MEP, Mollie Scott Cato, setting out a detailed vision for farming post-Brexit.

Said Dr Chowns: “Currently more than half the income of UK farmers comes from subsidies, and far too much of that money is wasted on paying large landowners to do nothing.  Brexit gives us the opportunity to reorient farming support so that it incentivises positive action like environmental protection and job creation”.

Greening the mountain slopes of Nepal  

Chris Evans grew up in a comfortable home in Herefordshire, but after gaining a forestry degree and joining VSO, he found himself in a harsh environment where communities struggle to survive on degraded land.

His arrival in 1985 was the beginning of a lifelong association with people and farming in the mountains of Nepal where he has helped set up the Himalayan Permaculture Centre. In a talk in Leominster for Herefordshire’s Tree Week programme, Chris described how there was now hope for the future in the challenging terrain.  Spread of permaculture methods in which planting trees and perennial plants alongside arable crops are key, is helping to reverse decline.

In many areas fuel had become desperately short, with women spending up to six hours a day walking to find and gather a bundle of firewood. As a result people resorted to burning animal manure, thus depriving the soil of input. “It’s a no-money economy,” said Chris, “In many ways they are incredibly resilient communities, but they face a constantly deteriorating resource base.”

The ecological recovery work has included improved composting techniques, better harvesting of water resources, boosting honey production with better beehives, seed production and training ‘barefoot consultants’ to reach farming communities needing advice. Chris illustrated his talk with superb images of the rural Nepalese people and their mountain landscape. He is happy to give talks around the county.

Chris and his partner Looby are based at Waterloo Farm, Orleton, near Leominster, where they recently launched Applewood Permaculture training centre.   Contact cevans@gn.apc.org

Save our council farms

Herefordshire Green Party councillors have criticised the way in which Herefordshire Council is handling the sell-off of the County estate, which was agreed in December, and have called for notices to quit to a group of tenants to be withdrawn. The Greens say a clear plan of action should have been drawn up, and a timetable agreed and discussed with the tenants and their representatives.

Councillor Jenny Bartlett said: “We believe that an opportunity was missed to look at more creative ways of running the County estate, which had been badly neglected for many years. The decision was made with no real consideration of the options put forward by the General Overview and Scrutiny Committee (GOSC) working group, of which I was a member.

“Given GOSC’s recommendation to retain a reduced estate via partial sales, why wasn’t this option costed so that we could make a proper evaluation of this option? It is quite clear that Cabinet never had any intention of even acknowledging GOSC’s recommendation and that the decision to sell had already been made”.

Councillor Felicity Norman said: “When the decision was made by the Cabinet, assurances were given that the process would be handled carefully, with full support and advice being given to the tenants, who would also be given the opportunity to purchase their farms. This does not appear to be the case.

“We are calling for all notices to quit to be withdrawn until a clear plan of action has been drawn up, a timetable produced and full discussions held with tenants and their representatives.”

Council sell off of small farms a tragedy

A Cabinet meeting of HCC decided on December 3rd 2015 to sell off all 45 of the Council owned small farms, totalling 4800 acres. This decision was made by the 7 Councillors who comprise the Cabinet despite an earlier recommendation of the Council’s General Overview and Scrutiny Committee (GOSC) to retain the estate and secure its viability through a structured partial sale so as to provide viable starter and progression farms.

The Cabinet’s decision has outraged members of the opposition parties including our two Green Party Councillors, as was reported in the Hereford Times on December 10th. Whilst this decision was legitimate it does raise serious questions about the democratic nature of the Council’s decision-making process.

The politically representative GOSC had reached its recommendation following extensive background research. The farm tenancies predating the 1995 Farm Business Tenancies Act had not been sufficiently fulfilling the stated intention of providing an initial entry into farming owing to the long term nature of the tenancies. However, these original tenancies have an expected average of only 7 or 8 years to run and the new tenancies under the more recent legislation are of more limited duration: in due course therefore the original purpose of providing a start and progression onwards in farming would increasingly have been fulfilled. In making a recommendation for partial sale the Committee had taken account of a need to raise funds to address a backlog of essential maintenance and thereby put the management of the smallholding estate on a sounder financial footing in the current cash-strapped circumstances. This was a balanced decision.

The Cabinet’s decision to sell the whole estate in a county with a proud farming tradition is a tragedy. This can best be seen as the outcome of short term thinking and a perceived necessity for an underfunded County Council to sell off irreplaceable assets in the face a misguided national austerity programme.