As members of the Melton branch of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) celebrates its centenary, the chairman has warned that Brexit will provide the industry with one of its biggest challenges in the last 100 years.
A dinner, attended by 110 people, was held at the town’s St Mary’s Church to mark the organisation’s milestone, with 14 former chairs in attendance including Gerald Botterill, who held the post way back in 1974
Melton was one of the first towns in the UK to set up its own branch of the NFU in 1918 when there were 53 farmers present and it now boasts a membership of around 700.
And chairman, George Watchorn said the recently-published draft Agriculture Bill, where EU farming subsidies will be removed for farmers in this country in favour of a different system of funding, was a hot topic in the industry.
The bill, which is going through Parliament, sets out how farmers and land managers will be paid for “public goods”, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding after the UK leaves the EU.
It would replace the current subsidy system of Direct Payments, which the government says is ineffective and pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed,skewing payments towards the largest landowners and not linking to any specific public benefits.
But Mr Watchorn said: “This complete removal of farming subsidies will probably provide one of the most challenging times for farmers over the last century.
“If they do withdraw the payments after Brexit farmers will lose a huge proportion of their annual profit.
“It won’t necessarily mean people going out of business but it is a worrying situation for farmers.”
There have been many other challenges facing the farming community, of course, with the devastating outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 and the spread of Bird Flu in 2016 and 2017 two of the more recent major issues.
The NFU has provided valuable support throughout the last century and membership has steadily increased to reflect that. In Long Clawson, for example, there were about 30 members of the Melton branch of the NFU in the early 1950s and today there are 260 full farming members, as well as several hundred countryside members.
Mr Watchorn said: “It was a very nice three-course dinner to celebrate our centenary and we were lucky enough to have national vice-president Stuart Roberts with us on the night.”
And he added: “At 26 I am one of the younger NFU branch chairs in the country but we could do with a few more younger members going forward.