Rural affairs minister quizzed by farmers at South Molton farm store
- Credit: Archant
Secretary of state delivers Tory election pledges at Mole Valley Farmers summit.
Defra minister Liz Truss met with farmers in South Molton during a visit to North Devon on Friday morning.
The secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs delivered a series of Conservative election pledges during a tour of Mole Valley Farmers’ flagship store on the Pathfields Industrial Estate. During a 20-minute summit with store bosses and members of the NFU, Mrs Truss outlined a need to cut red tape for farmers – and to get more British products on the shelves.
“Half of the cheese and yoghurt on our shelves is imported; we need to see a greater investment in processing for our dairy farmers,” she said.
“There is currently too much red tape; we want to see farmers farming, not form filling.”
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The minister also spoke about the Government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB, and confirmed that further badger culls would take place ‘where the disease is rife’.
Mrs Truss, visiting South Molton with North Devon Conservative parliamentary candidate Peter Heaton-Jones, also said the North Devon seat would be ‘vitally important’ to the Conservatives at the May election.
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“It could be the difference in getting David Cameron back into Downing Street,” she said.
“Peter Heaton-Jones has got a great plan in terms of more investment in road and rail links and really supporting our farming industry.
“He wants to be front and centre of our long term plan.”
Local farming representatives were keen to press for answers on the Government’s new basic payment system, which is being rolled out on May 15.
Some, including Robin Milton, chairman of the NFU’s hill and upland farming group, said there was widespread concern in the industry that the new farm audit system would not be delivered on time.
“The minister assured us it would be ready, but farmers need to be IT literate and have adequate broadband to access the system,” he told the Gazette.
Mr Milton, who farms beef and sheep at West Anstey, also said farmers spent too much time negotiating regulatory red tape.
“We spend a huge amount of time in compliance; there are multiple layers of box ticking and there is a feeling that there is a way to improve the current system.
“We have some of the best food in the world in this country and some of the safest – trust us to supply it and do it properly.”
Mr Milton said the volatility of the milk market was also discussed.
“We have a crisis in dairy, it is a very volatile time,” he said.
“The market will stabilise but there is a real need to be creative on both sides. The dairy industry and the Government must find methods to reduce the highs and lows.”