CUMBRIAN Parliamentary Candidates for Penrith and Solway shared their vision for the future of agriculture and the environment at an event organised by the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN).

The NFFN staged its first ever hustings for the new Penrith and Solway constituency online last week.

Candidates Mark Jenkinson (Conservatives), Markus Campbell-Savours (Labour) and Julia Aglionby (Liberal Democrats) were each given the chance to make their pitch on nature-friendly farming to an audience of farmers and constituents, before being asked a series of questions.

The discussion ranged widely from the role of government when signing trade deals to specifically local topics such as the closure of an agricultural college.

NFFN farmer Mark Lee hosted the event and introduced it by sharing his journey from running a conventional high-input, high-yield farm to becoming Cumbria’s first dairy farm where the cows are solely fed on pasture. He described how financial viability for his farm business had underpinned its transformation to a more nature-friendly approach.

Issues which were presented for discussion by the three candidates, included the worrying rise of mental health issues among farmers, the current massive change in agricultural support with the roll-out of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, the closure of local abattoirs and the lack of options that leaves farmers wanting to diversify, problems with getting school pupils and community groups onto farms and the shutting of the Newton Rigg agricultural college in Penrith.

The candidates spoke about subjects including the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and Countryside Stewardship (CS) schemes and their ongoing roll-out, how to balance food production with sustainability and the protection of nature and the importance of listening to farmers and ensuring their voices are heard in the corridors of power in Westminster.

Following the main presentations the candidates then faced questions on what they thought food security for the country looked like, how they would ensure more farmers are able to access the Higher Tier land management schemes with the most ambitious nature-friendly agricultural practices and what they would do to encourage more young people to stay in a rural area such as Cumbria.

The NFFN’s MP-farmer engagement officer, Mary White, said: “Hustings provide a space for members of the public and farmers to hear from candidates directly. It also ensures politicians are aware of the real people, lives and needs in the nature-friendly farming movement and continuing the work of ensuring their voices are being heard.”