I WAS hugely encouraged by my question and answer session last week at Leyburn with Agriculture Minister George Eustice.

Wensleydale RUFC’s refurbished clubhouse was packed with 100 farmers and others with a stake in this most important industry from auction mart directors to feed suppliers. They all had lots of probing questions for the Minister and he didn’t duck any of them.

Speaking to the farmers afterwards, they felt reassured by his central message – plotting a course for UK agriculture post-Brexit will have its challenges but also tremendous opportunities.

He likened the vote to leave the EU to any big decision we might make as individuals in our personal or business lives. There is bound to be apprehension. There is always some risk.

He understood that fear, both as a Minister with responsibility for negotiating a smooth transition out of Europe but also as an individual with a mixed family farm in Cornwall.

But his experience as Farming Minister over the last three years, dealing intimately, day to day, with the detail of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) had convinced him it was not fit for purpose and the UK could formulate its own farm policy which would do a much better job for British farmers outside the straitjacket of the EU.

Mr Eustice pointed out that the CAP attempts to regulate every aspect of what a farmer might try to do with his land and how that leads inevitably to more bureaucracy.

The more rules you have the more rules you need to make sense of the rules you have got, he said, giving as an example the rule that woodland is ineligible for the Single Farm Payment (SFP is the main subsidy most farmers receive).

That rule meant that there had to be another rule about what qualified as “woodland”. It was decided it would be more than 100 trees per hectare.

Then there was a debate about what constituted a “tree” and when it was no longer classed as sapling. Age was considered too difficult to measure so average girth was settled on.

Nursery stock (ie saplings transplanted to pots and sold in garden centres) was different so another rule was devised to cater for that. And, finally, after all these additional rules were created, Christmas tree growers pointed out that their “crop” was cut off from the roots and the rules didn’t allow for their situation.

Lawyers said there was no way round those circumstances and, as a result, farmers who use their land in such a way are denied SFP - for no logical reason.

Mr Eustice was not advocating a post-Brexit bonfire of regulations – any agricultural support system has to have them – but he feels that British-defined policy is much more likely to target subsidies at the farmers who really need them and be responsive to the unique circumstances of British farmers. It’s a view I fully support.

Mr Eustice had lots to say in response to questions about environmental stewardship, promoting British produce, maintaining animal welfare standards in new trade deals, the Groceries Code Adjudicator, the use of glyphosate and the dairy crisis.

Finally, my thanks to all who attended and the team at the rugby club for making us all so welcome.