An organic poultry and livestock farmer from Cambo near Morpeth and a mixed dairy and arable farmer from Stocksfield have taken up the reins as the newly elected chairman and vice chairman for the NFU’s Northumberland county.
Simon Bainbridge and Tom Richardson have started a two year term of office representing more than 800 farmers and growers across a diverse agricultural area stretching from Newcastle to the Scottish borders.
As the new county chairman, Simon says he is looking forward to working as part of the NFU’s regional team, but says that that with Brexit on the horizon, there will be some challenges ahead for all local farming businesses.
“In simple terms, Brexit can make or break farming, but it will be hard for long-term businesses like ours to make changes quickly,” he said. “Above all we need a sensible and pragmatic approach from government to give us a fighting chance of rising to the challenge and seeking out the opportunities that will undoubtedly occur.”
Simon, who also sits on the NFU’s regional livestock board, said it was important to maintain a strong focus on animal health and welfare as the pace of Brexit increases.
“Efforts to achieve official TB-free status for the region for example and tackle persistent diseases such as BVD have the potential to secure better returns for farmers and give us more control over our costs,” he said. “This will be crucial in the coming months and years.”
Another priority, he says, is to do more to support the mental health and wellbeing of the local farming community.
“People are under increasing pressure, not just in the face of Brexit uncertainties but also as a result of price volatility and climate change,” he said. “Within the NFU we are very conscious that farmers and their families are suffering more from stress and anxiety and as an industry we need to address this.
“As county chairman I really want to take this issue seriously and do more to support the farming families that are at the heart of our industry.”
Working alongside Simon is Tom Richardson who is also concerned about achieving a smooth transition as the UK leaves the EU.
In particular, he wants to ensure that the next generation of farmers inherit a thriving industry and that their customers have more of a connection with how food is produced in the UK.
“It will be crucial to step up our efforts to connect with the next generation of shoppers and to reduce the disconnect between our towns and rural areas,” he said.
“We welcome thousands of families to our farm every year and enjoy showing them round. I am always amazed at how interested people are in how food is produced and this is a conversation we certainly need to be having on farms across the county.”
Beyond the challenges of Brexit, Tom says he is keen to promote the opportunities associated with forestry – a business that his family has embraced and that now makes a valuable contribution to the farm’s income.
“I’m a firm believer that farming and forestry go hand in hand and I’d like to highlight the benefits to be gained from taking that approach,” he said.
Simon and Tom will also work alongside Morpeth livestock and arable farmer, Fred Ryle, who continues as the county’s elected delegate to the NFU’s national council.