Farmers in the North-East and North Yorkshire have a new man to champion their cause in the North-East. He talks to PETER BARRON
ONE of James Bainbridge’s earliest memories as a little boy is playing with his toy tractors on the carpet at home.
These days, the toys have made way for the real thing with James managing the family farm in North Yorkshire and he remains as passionate as ever about the “fantastic industry” which has been his life.
Indeed, he is proud to be newly-appointed as the chairman of the National Farmers’ Union for the North Riding and Durham region.
“Farming’s in my blood. Growing up on a farm, it’s all I’ve ever known and I realised that I was getting too old for the Young Farmers so doing this job seemed to be the logical next step.
“I’m passionate about agriculture and want to do what I can to protect it and make it better.”
Ask him for his number one priority for 2017 and, without hesitation he sums it up in one word which has dominated the political scene over the past year: Brexit.
“Brexit is definitely top of my agenda,” says 36-year-old James, whose family run a variety of agricultural enterprises, including arable, sheep, cattle and 8,000 free range hens at Seamer, near Stokesley.
“We can’t have the country flooded with imported food which is poorly produced and low on welfare standards. We have to maintain the high standards that British farming is so well known for,” he says.
Theresa May is charged with getting the best deal possible for Britain and James says he will do everything possible, along with his NFU colleagues, to campaign to make sure that farming isn’t side-lined.
“What we have to remember is that the British countryside is glorious because of farming so we mustn’t be overlooked in the negotiations on the Brexit deal,” says James.
“I’m privileged to work in a fantastic industry and we have beautiful green landscapes and the best food in the world because of what farmers do every day of their lives. The standards they set have to be maintained whatever happens.”
Ironically, while fighting for a progressive Brexit deal for farmers, James and the NFU find themselves in potential conflict with Europe over the controversial use of widely used weedkiller ingredient glyphosate.
The European Chemicals Agency has launched a review into glyphosate to establish whether it should be classified as carrying a cancer risk, with the results expected to be published in the summer.
In the meantime, at the beginning of the year, the European Commission registered a petition calling for a ban on the use of glyphosate. The European Citizens Initiative (ECI) is calling on the commission to propose a “ban on glyphosate, to reform the pesticide approval procedure, and to set EU-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use”.
A one-year schedule is underway to collect signatures and, under EU rules, a million signatures from seven different member states would force the commission to react within three months. That could mean either endorsing the ban or giving a detailed explanation about why the chemical would continue to be licensed.
James, however, dismisses the cancer fears surrounding glyphosate as “nonsense”, adding: “This issue is very close to my heart. It’s very important for us to go on using it as a way of protecting our crops and controlling weeds.
“There is no science to back up these claims – none whatsoever - and we have to do whatever we can to put an end to all the scaremongering. If they take it away, it will be like trying to farm without a tractor.”
Whatever the outcome of the increasingly intense European deliberations, it is pretty clear that in James Bainbridge, the NFU has found a regional chairman for this part of the world who is up for the fight, whether it’s pressing for a fair deal for farmers in the Brexit negotiations, or clarifying the position over the continued use of glyphosate.
Europe may be at the top of his agenda but his main message is directed at consumers back home in the north of England, where he was raised and played with his toy tractors: “Buy British and keep it local – that’s the best way to support farming and keep the countryside green.”