Fenland farmers debate the effects of Brexit

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No Caption ABCDE PPP-160531-180256001

Farmers in Fenland have been having their say on how the industry should respond to the challenges posed by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

Senior National Farmers Union (NFU) officials have held a series of breakfast meetings, including one in March, to gauge members’ views on Brexit.

The sessions will form part of a report, due to be completed this autumn, setting out what measures the union believes are necessary to protect the industry in the future.

And NFU council member Ken Proctor said the challenge was to ensure agriculture remained sustainable for future generations.

He said: “It’s up to us to get that right.”

The NFU study is considering options in a number of areas, including trade, access to labour, financial support and regulation, following June’s referendum vote.

As part of that work, meetings are being held with NFU members across the country, including one which took place at the March Golf Club last Tuesday.

Mr Proctor acknowledged that continuing access to workers from overseas was particularly important to vegetable producers in the Fenland area.

And, though he admitted that the Brexit vote was not welcomed by many of his fellow members, he accepted it was their responsibility to make the best possible case to government for support.

But he added: “It’s here and we’ve got to make the most of it.”

Following another of the sessions, held in Swaffham on Thursday, Tom Clark, who farms barley and wheat in the Fens, said many producers, like himself, had not known the industry without the regulation and subsidies offered by the European Union.

He said: “I’m 41 in a couple of weeks. This is the first time we’re going to have to stand on our own two feet and make our case for any special treatment. It’s a massive challenge.

“There’s opportunities in everything but lots of farmers have got used to the way things have been and are now realising the changes that have got to be made.”

But, even though he voted to remain in the European Union, Norfolk farmer David Hill said the decision to leave gave Britain the chance to set its own policies, particularly in areas of bio-technology.

He said: “We need a new revolution in agriculture.”

A further series of regional meetings will take place next month before the final report is presented to the NFU’s ruling council in October.