‘Every single sector of farming is suffering’ - CLA president

CLA president Ross Murray.

CLA president Ross Murray. - Credit: Archant

Farmers across all sectors are having a tough time, the incoming president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) acknowledged as he took up his post on Thursday.

CLA president Ross Murray.

CLA president Ross Murray. - Credit: Archant

Former deputy president Ross Murray, pictured, who will preside over a membership of 33,000 and rising, praised the “excellent” outgoing president Henry Robinson.

“It’s a huge responsibility - it’s a huge year. I’m actually very excited about it and there’s so much going on in the whole rural economy framework - it’s just interesting. It’s going to be a fascinating two years. We have got some really big issues,” he said.

Of immediate concern is farming’s bottom line, which has taken a hit after a year in which prices have plummeted across a range of commodities from wheat to meat.

Mr Murray, from South Wales, is owner and trustee of the Llanover Estate near Abergavenny, which has 12 tenanted farms, some of them over very hilly countryside, which focus mainly on dairy and stock farming. He also keeps his own 100-strong flock of pedigree black Welsh mountain sheep, manages a fishery on the River Usk and is a trustee of the Wye and Usk Foundation.

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“Every single sector of farming has been suffering this year, all of which is very worrying and it’s something I’m acutely conscious of, that farming has been difficult this year. My dairy farmers in particular found it difficult this year,” he said.

He called on Government, through the Rural Payments Agency, to be prompt in its farm subsidy payments and on banks to be “sensitive” in their dealings with farmers, many of whom will be feeling the pinch.

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“I think some of them are very desperate really,” he said

“One hopes people are going to be able to hold their nerve and stay in there. Long term viability of business is a core issue for the CLA. We encourage them to diversify their income.”

He added: “It’s extraordinary how resilient the farming community it. They are such proud people and it’s almost humbling to see how determined people are to come through.”

Timely BPS payments were “critical”, he said.

“We really do need to hold the government to that. That’s going to be a lifeline,” he said.

“Farmers have no alternative but to be very careful with their costs and to think carefully about what their cropping regime will be.”

He did not think farming was in crisis, but added: “There will be many farmers in a difficult place at the moment. I’m hearing that right the way round the country. For the first time in a long time it’s affected the dairy sector, beef and sheep and the arable sector.”

Farmers were responding through innovation and through increasing co-operation with their neighbours, he said.

“There’s a lot of good work going on to try and make farming profitable,” he said.

Like his predecessors, Mr Murray spent two years as vice-president, then two as deputy before he was voted in as president. One of the big issues he will face during his two-year tenure will be the referendum on the European Union, which it’s possible may be held in June next year. The CLA is currently working on some research into the potential impact of a ‘Brexit’ as members, many of whom have strong views either way on the issue, get to grips with the implications of the vote.

“We’ll have to be very, very helpful to our members so they can understand the issues and the impact it can have on their businesses,” he said.

“We have strong views both ways and there will always be a personal element to it beyond the economic interest. The farming support is very important but that’s not going to sway everyone.

“I’m not putting my own personal views out in the public domain. Like everyone else, I want more information and I don’t feel I fully understand the impact of the Brexit on me or on the nation as a whole.”

He added: “I suspect I won’t make up my mind until just before polling.”

Among his general aims, he says, will be working for greater recognition of the contribution of the rural economy to the UK economy as a whole, trying to help the long-term viability of farm businesses through diversification, and tackling the “acute” housing crisis in the countryside through small-scale developments.

“I look forward to demonstrating the value of the rural economy and showing how managing the land is an active business involving risk and investment. Rural businesses take the long view managing and investing across generations, while remaining relevant and innovative and making a major contribution to the economy in England and Wales,” he said.

“We will also show how rural businesses differ from the more urbanised economy. The rural economy has agriculture at its heart, as well as protecting our heritage and the environment.

“Whatever the environmental, social and economic challenges we face, rural businesses are key to the solution and I look forward to taking our members’ message to the heart of Government.”

Mr Murray, who is married to Elizabeth, is a chartered surveyor and manages and develops rural and urban estates in Wales. He is also a forester, managing a large forest in south-west Scotland as well as woodlands at home in Wales.

Tim Breitmeyer from Cambridgeshire has been appointed deputy president, while Mark Bridgeman from Northumberland becomes CLA vice-president.

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