During my visit, the plight of dairy farmers was raised time and again with me at Hallworthy Stockyard, near Camelford. With hundreds of milk producers leaving the sector in the past few months, and milk payments plummeting, dairying in the South West is in crisis.
I was honoured to be a guest at the Hallworthy Christmas Market, where I met scores of farmers to discuss their problems and challenges - and I discovered quickly just how dire their situation really was. A glut of milk, both domestically and internationally, plus the ban on exports to Russia as a result of the Ukrainian situation, has seen payments spiralling downwards.
Every dairy farmer I spoke to talked about the Russia embargo. This is clearly impacting on their trading situation, at a time when the dairy price is already challenged. International decisions being made in Westminster are impinging on what happens to our farmers down here in Cornwall. It's an incredibly difficult situation. We must make it easier, rather than harder, for people in agriculture to be able to perform in a way that ensures a reasonable living.
I toured all sections of the market, watching as hundreds of sheep and cattle were auctioned, and heard how the current much-criticised sheep-tagging situation is a “complete nonsense,” imposed on producers by the EU. The tagging regime as it stands is a piece of expensive and ridiculous bureaucracy from Brussels. We should allow farmers to farm, unhindered by wasteful rules that add nothing to considerations about food security and traceability.
I learned a lot from my visit and was encouraged by the upbeat atmosphere in the sheep pens - indicative of a healthy trade and customer ongoing demand for home-grown lamb. But I was worried about prices in the beef sector, having heard about increasing pressure from the big supermarket chains, which: “sees many producers trading only just above the margin”.
But despite all the problems, Cornish farmers were displaying a commendable resilience and my visit provided a great opportunity to meet people and discuss day-to-day issues. I came away feeling positive about farming. The auctioneers, Kivells, did a good job in promoting a party spirit for Christmas, on a freezing cold day, and that helped towards creating an upbeat mood.
If you have any views on the current situation in farming, or indeed on any other issue that is important to North Cornwall, please take a couple of minutes to complete my short online survey here: