Farmers, conservationists and rural producers turned out on a sunny Saturday evening at Liskeard Public Hall on May 20 to hear Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge and a shadow minister for farming, food and fishing, discuss what a Labour Government would do for rural affairs. 

He joined a Labour Listens Question Time panel with the head of the NFU South Region, Mel Squires MBE; Jeremy Oatey, a well known Rame farmer; and Cheryl Marriott from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. 

“The biggest difference under a Labour Government.” said Mr Zeichner, “is that we believe that government has to be involved. You can’t just leave it to the market which is what the Conservatives think. A Labour government will be active in helping to shape and support farming and the countryside.” 

Before the meeting audience members had a chance to chat to members of the panel and to look at the stalls in the Hall. The Question Time was opened by Liskeard’s Labour mayor, Simon Cassidy, who reminded the audience how important farming is to the local economy. 

It was reported that there was an excellent discussion by panel members on questions that were put to them from members of the audience. It was kicked off by a question from farmer John Curtis who was concerned by how complicated it was to apply for stewardship scheme grants. This led to a wide-ranging discussion about the new subsidy scheme to replace support that until 2020 came from the European Union. 

Debenie Moore asked what could be done to encourage young people into farming. Mel Squires and Jeremy Oatey, the farmers on the panel, both thought that the future for young people in farming was positive. Mel, though, was concerned that more financial support is needed for agricultural colleges. 

Joy Bassett of local producer organisation Cornish Gateway asked how we could ensure that Cornish produce was processed in Cornwall and not sent upcountry. This led to a discussion about UK produce generally. Mr Zeichner said: “A Labour Government will support British agriculture by making public bodies like the NHS purchase at least 50% of their food supplies from UK sources.” 

Luckett farmer Martin Howlett asked how the need for efficient food production could be balanced with environmental concerns like the banning of neonicotinoid pesticides. The general view was that we need to follow the science. Cornwall Wildlife Trust executive member, Cheryl Marriott, said we also need to think about changing what we eat and grow for a more sustainable planet. 

Chair of SE Cornwall Labour Party, Alastair Tinto, who chaired the panel, said: “This is our first Labour Listens event. We are going out to the people and asking them to tell us what they would like to see Labour do. Many people came up to me afterwards and congratulated us on doing this.” 

“The positive mood of this get together was summed up by Martin Howlett who said, ‘Farmers must not be seen as the problem: we are part of the solution.”