Jesse’s Ross Gazette column: Shaping the Rural Economy of the Future

Last week I had the great pleasure of visiting Hopes Ash Farm.

Located in a lovely valley south of Ross-on-Wye, it is run by Robert and Rachel Davies.  It started life as a dairy farm, but since the 1970s the family have branched out into cereals, beef, sheep, turkeys, and apple orcharding.

Recognition of the success that has followed came last year when Robert was named “Mixed Farmer of the Year” by Farmers Weekly.  

As we walked round the robot-enabled milking parlour and looked down the valley from the cow sheds, Robert reminded me again of the age-old point that there is no such thing as a purely natural countryside. 

Everything you see, from ditch to coppice to field to hedge, is the product of centuries of farming.

The green and pleasant land of England that has inspired poets and artists from William Blake to David Hockney is a working environment, created by human hand.  We are very lucky in Herefordshire to have so many talented farmers working the land, the vast majority of whose proceeds go into the local economy.

As the UK moves towards Brexit, farmers now have the opportunity to help shape the rural economy of the future. 

Andrea Leadsom, the DEFRA Secretary, set a course last week when she highlighted the need to reduce red tape and needless farm inspections. 

But key questions are still to be addressed.  Should the UK press for free trade for exports—and, of course, imports?  How will farms, especially horticultural producers, get access to the seasonal labour they need?  What should be the goals of a farm support payment system after 2020? 

None of these issues are easy.  There is much work still to do.  But the prize, of a more prosperous, competitive and sustainable farm economy, is a huge one.