Is anyone out there listening? Welcome to the 2014 Annual Report which is now producing its third report. I would like to introduce my role in the Board which as Resources Director is an exciting and challenging position. As a Kent farmer and landowner myself I bring a wealth of experience and knowledge of the rural marketplace to this new post.
With a view to the ever changing political landscape and its effect on the farming and rural community, Rural PLC (Kent) produced an excellent election manifesto reminding politicians of the importance of food and farming. This included ensuring that our own politicians here in Kent were up to speed with the bureaucracy faced by farmers and agents with the change of the Single Farm Payment system in May where focus has shifted from food production to environmental issues. I have had the opportunity to talk directly to Damian Collins (MP Folkestone & Hythe) who living in the beautiful Elham Valley shares my concerns. His constituent farmers are now burdened with yet ever more red tape and legislation, at the same time as having their hands tied with the new support system that forces farmers to put a higher percentage of their land into environmental schemes. Damian Green (MP Ashford) has also taken a great interest in the direction that farming is taking; he recently said “I am delighted that Rural Kent PLC is taking practical steps to improve the rural economic position in Kent, as this is really important for the overall success of the County”. Nationally Liz Truss has been re-appointed as the DEFRA lead minister. Sadly the days of Jim Pace and Richard Benyon, who were both knowledgeable, are long gone. Let’s hope that her team of George Eustice and Rory Stewart get quickly to grips with legislation which is currently strangling the farming community, and preventing them doing their job, which is primarily to feed the world. Talking world markets, sadly the summer of 2015 has been a pretty desperate year for farming in Kent. The milk price has dropped by 15p per litre, wheat is now worth half what is was two years ago and for the soft fruit, top fruit and viticulturists the strength of the pound against the Euro is not helping. Added to that the Russian ban on fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products, and the political crisis in Ukraine makes exporting any of our excellent Kentish produce very difficult indeed. Export eyes have fallen on far eastern markets, but these markets are already crowded as we compete against our European neighbours who have already made big inroads in this area. 2015 has seen excellent growing conditions and until recently when the rain started – a lovely summer. However this is applicable to all our neighbours and when we in this country have bumper crops, sadly so does everyone else. So what is the answer? Rural PLC (Kent) believe that farmers must continue to produce more good quality food as the population continues to expand and must start to take more interest in the ultimate destination of their products. Farmers are very good at talking prices down and not very good at getting the price they deserve. However nobody could have envisaged the Chinese stock markets going into free fall and this resulting in pressure being borne on all our markets especially our pig producers; China being one of their major export destinations. In summary we need a Government that understands and can influence Europe, leading to farmers less strangled by red tape, pressure groups and environmental constraints. We need our local politicians to feel involved in farming and lobby Europe and DEFRA on our behalf and we need innovative and entrepreneurial farmers who are constantly seeking new markets with the flexibility to change with the times. Our farming and diversified businesses contribute to a healthy economy and, as the voice of rural business in Kent we will endeavour to make sure they stay that way.