The fourth annual Northern Farming conference attracted a record audience of 330 at Hexham mart. Organisers had to stop taking bookings as the conference room was full. Mike Bridgen reports

THE practicality of introducing an insurance scheme to help farmers hit by severe weather or plunging prices is to be investigated further.

Farming Minister George Eustice told the conference that it had been an idea put forward by the NFU at the June Farming Resilience Summit of banks, farming charities and farming representatives.

The summit was called after the disastrous weather of 2012 and the exceptionally heavy snowfalls, which hit parts of the country in the spring.

Mr Eustice said that in 2009, Defra officials had looked at insurance schemes run in the US and Canada.

In America, farmers pay into the scheme and the US government pays for its administration. If a farmer’s income drops singificantly below a certain level, they can claim on the insurance and receive a top-up.

In Canada, farmers pay a fee and the government meets 60 to 80 per cent of the cost of the scheme. If the farmer’s income drops below 70 per cent of the average for the previous five years, then the insurance kicks in. But Mr Eustice said: “There are big drawbacks. In Canada and the US, they do not have a single farm payment. Any scheme here may mean not having the single payment and having insurance instead.”

Administrations costs can also be high and there can be complexity. “It is by no means a panacea,” said Mr Eustice. “It would be a radical departure from CAP, but I recognise this could be something to look at for managing the risk in the future and the Farming Resilience Group will be looking at this.”

He suggested it might be something to consider for post-2020 and pointed out that there are already some commercial schemes available.

The theme of the conference was managing risk and resilience and the minister highlighted the Met Office’s new Get Ready for Winter webpage, which had been introduced to give farmers up-to-date information on weather coming their way, so they could try to protect their crops and livestock.

“As we enter winter, it is essential we do all we can to support the industry in its efforts to prepare and plan to mitigate risks,” he said. “The Met Office’s webpage is an example of joint-working to make our industry more resilient.”

Mr Eustice also said he was “very keen” to encourage new entrants into farming.

“Having new people coming in with fresh ideas is the lifeblood of any industry,” he said.

Profit-sharing might be one way of helping a young person build up a stake in a business, contract farming and share farming could be used much more and increasing the length of tenancies – and the amount of land available – was needed.

“If you are going to invest in the land, it is quite hard to do that when you have only four years security,” said Mr Eustice.

“We need to look at encouraging landowners to offer longer-term tenancies.”