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Fact-finding tour to explore issues facing Westcountry farming

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 08, 2012

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The challenges and opportunities facing farming and rural business in the Westcountry will be closely examined this week by the leader of the national landowners' organisation.

Harry Cotterell, national president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) will be on a two-day fact-finding-tour. He will be focusing on a wide range of issues – from the problems caused by lack of broadband access in rural areas, to the opportunities and threats in the renewable-energy sector.

John Mortimer, the CLA regional director, said: "It is a hectic programme which will take us to six counties and from one end of the South West to the other – but the president feels it is important to stay in touch with the grass roots of our organisation and to hear from members at first hand the issues that are affecting their businesses on a day-to-day basis."

Mr Cotterell's tour of the region starts in Gloucestershire on Wednesday, when he will talk to CLA members about broadband, before moving on to Wiltshire, to visit a solar energy farm, as well as discussing opportunities for heating from bio-mass and anaerobic digestion.

In Dorset, Mr Cotterell will attend an evening reception in Dorchester to hear how rural businesses are engaging with the Local Economic Partnership and how the LEP might help rural business develop their full economic potential.

Mr Cotterell's second day will start with a breakfast meeting at the Jack-in-the-Green at Rockbeare, near Exeter, where he will be focusing on the issues of rural tourism and local food production. With reports suggesting that one-third of people do not appreciate where vegetables are produced, he wants to hear what more could be done to improve the knowledge of food origins.

The reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be the subject up for discussion at his Cornish meeting with landowners at St Austell, for a at the rural specialist solicitors Stephens Scown. Mr Cotterell said that the sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture that the Government describes in its policy paper, Food 2030, cannot become a reality without an appropriate CAP budget.

Eliminating EU agricultural subsidies and border protection would, he said, destroy thousands of farm businesses, stimulating widespread abandonment of livestock grazing and in turn leading to moorland landscapes reverting to scrub.

Mr Cotterell's final stop will be at Wedmore in Somerset, where he will meet CLA members who have suffered the consequences of this summer's severe floods. He will hear their vision of flood management on the Somerset Levels for the future and what the consequences of no investment in flood prevention and management might mean for livestock farming on the Levels.

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