Suffolk: Support farmers, urges new NFU branch chairman George Gittus
PUBLISHED: 13:20 20 February 2014
(c) Lucia Tieko
The new chairman of Suffolk National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is urging farmers to help build public support for agriculture.
George Gittus, who farms at Great Saxham, near Bury St Edmunds, said there was a real opportunity for British farming to capitalise on events such as last year’s horsemeat scandal
“Farmers do a really good job of producing quality food and looking after the environment.
“It’s up to everyone to keep that positive message going forward and to explain at every opportunity what we do and why we do it,” he said.
“When I get the chance to talk to the public about how farming has changed, most people are really interested and are amazed about what is happening.”
George’s family has farmed in west Suffolk for more than 150 years. As well as arable cropping, the farm includes an outdoor pig enterprise, a business park and a newly- developed anaerobic digestion plant (AD), a joint venture with another Suffolk business, Material-Change.
“Rather than having all our eggs in one basket we’ve got a foot in different camps and the four areas of the business fit together very well,” he said.
“The business park supplies the farm with a steady income and the AD plant supplies renewable energy to our tenants. We also grow forage maize and forage rye for the AD plant as part of our crop rotation.”
George studied at the Royal Agricultural College in Gloucestershire and worked on farms in Cornwall, Scotland, Australia and the USA before returning to the family farm in the early 1990s.
“I’d been wanting to farm since I was a few years old. I didn’t have to go into agriculture but the opportunity was there if I wanted to do it - and you do have to want to do it. Like a lot of family businesses it is all-consuming,” he said.
As well as Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, he believes that water security will be a key issue for Suffolk farmers over the next few years. The farm business includes a 20 million gallon reservoir, which is primarily used to irrigate 100 acres of potatoes.
“Water is becoming increasingly important. We all need to act responsibly when it comes to using water but I think we do a good job collectively as an industry,” he said.
He is also concerned about rural broadband and mobile phone coverage in Suffolk and believes it is vital that the situation improves.
“The mobile signal appears to be getting worse in rural areas, with masts being lost. Everyone expects to have complete coverage but the situation is not getting any better.
“The situation has to be reversed or there will be a complete two-tier system – the rural and the urban. For farm businesses that have been encouraged to diversify they will find themselves struggling to continue if both of these services don’t improve,” he said.
George is married to Jayne, a farmer’s daughter from Leicestershire. Jayne is instrumental in looking after the health and safety portfolio for the company and also runs a bed and breakfast business. The couple have two children, Freddie, 20, who is studying at Harper Adams and Hetty, 18, studying geography at Durham University.
He succeeds Richard Scott as chairman at the NFU annual conference in Birmingham on February 26. His first job as county chairman will be to help elect the NFU’s new officeholder team of president, deputy president and vice-president.