Farming communities will need to change if they are to survive and thrive in the future

MALHAMDALE hill farmer Neil Heseltine says North Yorkshire’s most rural farming communities will need to ‘shift’ their ‘mind set’ and be brave in the face of big challenges if they are to survive and thrive in the future.

Mr Heseltine, speaking at the North Yorkshire Rural Commission in Northallerton, said: “We must shift our emphasis to reflect the benefits from the change that is necessary for farming to play its role in the county’s economy in the future.

“The part agriculture can play in delivering a carbon neutral economy needs to be front and centre. We can reduce our emissions and we can make adjustments to capture carbon while supporting biodiversity – as long as we are prepared to shift our mind set and take responsibility.”

He added: “Since the Second World War food production has risen by nearly 50 per cent but profits have reduced. The financial pressures and hours farmers work take a toll on family life and their mental health. Traditional farming is simply not profitable so we need new business models and to take a new approach.”

Hearing evidence on farming, food and the environment, the independent Rural Commission, supported by North Yorkshire County Council, listened to calls for farming to become part of the national curriculum.

The meeting heard there needs to be a far greater emphasis put on education so the public understand where their food comes from and how it is produced alongside a greater knowledge of the science of farming.

Rural Commissioner, Dr Debbie Trebilco, said: “The importance of North Yorkshire’s natural assets including its landscapes, culture and heritage have been the subject of much debate including whether we should lobby to protect our natural assets as we do other national treasures – such as paintings and buildings.

“How can it be right that we produce 65 per cent of the food the nation needs but many farmers don’t make a profit?”

Chairman, The Very Rev John Dobson DL, Dean of Ripon, said: “There’s a huge question about how to make the industry self-supporting and profitable and how best to capitalise on the power and value of ‘brand North Yorkshire’ in marketing agricultural products locally, nationally and internationally.

“We have heard about the potential for big opportunities around food tourism and innovations in technology that help farmers get the best from their land, crops and herds to maximise profitability while protecting and enhancing the environment. We have heard about what balanced rewilding projects may be able to achieve as well as the importance of business support and investment in education and training.”

The Rural Commission – the first of its kind – is tasked with hearing evidence on a broad range of the challenges faced by the county’s most rural communities to update the evidence base and establish a number of recommendations for the council and its partners to consider next summer.