Put farmers at the heart of policy development

Paul Tompkins on his farm, standing in front of his dairy cows

A visit designed to showcase how partnership working can deliver for the environment saw regional dairy board chairman, Paul Tompkins, host the chairs of both Natural England and the Environment Agency last month.

The visit was the culmination of months of work, engaging with both organisations at local and regional level, Paul explained.

“Meeting with Tony Juniper and Emma Howard Boyd was a great opportunity to demonstrate the success of initiatives such as Catchment Sensitive Farming in delivering improved water, soil and air quality,” he said.

“I believe that a lot can be achieved through partnership working, with farmers at the heart of decision making, and that was the main message I wanted to get across.”

During a tour of his farm near York, Paul showed how soil compaction can be reduced by using machinery at the appropriate time – governed by the weather and soil type rather than a prescribed ‘window’.

“It was fortuitous that the visit occurred on a wet October day, when I was able to demonstrate the short-comings of both the NVZ regulations and ‘farming by date’ approach,” said Paul.

“Legally I would have been able to be out spreading slurry that day, but in reality they were able to see that such activity would have been completely wrong given the weather and soil conditions.

“Going forward, I urged them to consider giving farmers the ability to decide the right approach for their farm.

“While this did not necessarily fall on deaf ears, it was clear that the trade-off would be greater penalties should farmers be found making the ‘wrong’ decisions.”

Paul was also keen to encourage greater recognition of how river catchments differ - meaning a one-size-fits-all approach would never achieve the desired results.

“The only way we are going to get regulation that fits different farming systems is to have these conversations with policy makers,” he added.

“We have to take every chance to demonstrate what we can bring to the debate and show the valuable contribution we can make, based on our detailed knowledge of our own farms.

“These conversations can be challenging and we won't always prevail, but especially now, when our new domestic agricultural policies are being developed, we must try and influence the government's approach.”

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post after the visit Mr Juniper said great environmental gains can be achieved if government agencies are “thoughtful about how we support farmers”.