Farming in Northumberland ~ Rural Affairs with Dagmar Winter


The Revd Canon Dr Dagmar WinterThis is Dagmar’s final rural column as she will be leaving her Rural Affairs brief for the Diocese as well as her current parish post early in 2015 when she becomes Rector of Hexham.

“Thank you for listening to my rural ramblings since March 2008,” says Dagmar – and we add our thanks for keeping the issues facing so much of our diocese in our minds and our prayers.

Hans Pörksen and friend

Meet Hans Pörksen (pictured), incoming Chair of the Northumberland NFU from 2015!

For 20 years he was Lecturer at the Northumberland College of Agriculture, training shepherds.

He farms on Wallington Estate, has been Chair of the National Sheep Association (Northern Region) and Chair of the North East NFU Livestock Board till 2013.

Livestock on Hans Pörksen's farmWith this rich experience in farming in this part of the world, I asked him to review the last ten years and also look to the future.

"In 2004 we were only just recovering from the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak which affected us dramatically. Then in 2007 there was another FMD outbreak in Surrey which meant prices dropped in the beef and sheep sector because of the export restrictions. The French eat more UK lamb than French-reared lamb.
When that market closes to us,
we have a huge surplus and
the price collapses."

Farming in Northumberland"As far as diseases go, fortunately Bluetongue did not make it to us up here but the 2013 Horsegate scandal affected us badly. It totally undermined confidence in the meat industry, prices fell sharply and marketing of products was difficult. Shockingly, still no one has been prosecuted."

"It's been a rollercoaster in the last 10 years. Occasionally, breeding prices have been reasonable, e.g. this year it's been good for hill farmers, but "good" means at a level of 30 years ago. Let me give you an example: 1972 I sold my first lambs in Hexham Auction Mart, they made £58.50 which in those days paid 3½ weeks' wages. This year they made £64.50 which is short of two days' wages. That's why farmers complain! The marketplace does not pay any single beef or sheep producer enough to make it pay without the Single Farm Payment from Europe."

"What we as farmers need is more protection from the pressures that are exerted by the retailers and processors. Not many people know that for instance the cost of ‘buy one get one free’ deals is forced on the supplier and not met by the retailer. The consumer also needs to appreciate that currently they are getting very cheap food due to the EU and the Single Farm Payment. In the mid-60s 20% of household income went on food, now it is between 8 – 11%."

Hans remembers an exam question when he was a young student at Harper Adams Agricultural College: 'Is farming an art, a business or a way of life? Discuss!' He laughs: "If the answer is business, you are in trouble! Really, it's a mix of all of it. And I would add 'a science'."

"On my wish list for the next 10 years is independent advice for farmers, rather than the main source being firms who want to sell their products, and more research into animal diseases. We also need more skilled labour on farms, and not least proper agricultural understanding at the heart of Whitehall."

Speaking with farmers, it seems to me that for many there is clear vocational element to what they do. Hans agrees: "We keep livestock because we absolutely love it; we get a lot of satisfaction from it. I really, really enjoy it, being outdoors, going round the stock, working with animals, growing crops, conserving food for the winter and making a good job of it. And the money side – well, you can't operate without money but I've been fortunate always to have had income from elsewhere so I haven't had to rely totally on the farming income – through my wife's teaching, my own teaching, etc. There is undoubtedly a big danger in farmers being over reliant on finance from borrowed sources. The Farming Help network ( is doing a crucial job when crises arise because they are able to listen to people's problems and point them in the right direction."

Despite the problems, Hans is positive. "Britain and Ireland are blessed with a tremendous climate for grass growing, i.e. meat production, so long-term the future is brilliant for livestock farming. But we need to learn to cooperate more with each other."

I'm sure this is just one of the items on Hans' to-do list and all good wishes go to him for his tenure at the helm of Northumberland NFU.

New Local Development Strategy for the Northumberland Uplands Submitted to DEFRA
Throughout 2014 the Northumberland Uplands LEADER Local Action Group (NULAG), which I chair has been preparing a new Local Development Strategy (LDS). So first of all I would like to thank all who have given time to get involved and have supported us.

NULAG LDS 2014 - 2020In early September NULAG submitted the new strategy to DEFRA and expect to hear whether their bid has been successful in November. DEFRA will consider the proposal along with submissions from other areas from across England and will decide which areas to allocate funding to.

The Local Development Strategy covers a large part of Western rural Northumberland incorporating the Northumberland Uplands and sets NULAG’s priorities for the rural development support they hope to provide from 2015-2020 if their bid is successful.

The LDS draws together the needs and aspirations of local communities with the Government’s priorities for LEADER. Through their consultation programme NULAG identified the following six key themes which reflect national priorities.

1. Increasing farm productivity
2. Micro and small enterprises and diversification
3. Rural Tourism
4. Provision of rural services
5. Cultural and heritage activity
6. Increasing forestry productivity

To view the full Local Development Strategy document please go to the NULAG website

If the bid to DEFRA for the next round of funding is successful NULAG will be able to start receiving applications from potential projects between January and March 2015, aiming for the first funding decision to be taken in April 2015. The application process will be thorough, the details of which are currently still with DEFRA. We shall release more information towards the end of the year as soon as we have it.

People with ideas for projects please should send their name, contact details and the title of their project to

NULAG has been overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of the local community’s involvement in the rural development of the Northumberland Uplands. The Action Group’s consultation events in the four main market towns in the Uplands were successful and very well attended.

They would like to thank their key stakeholders for their support including Northumberland County Council, Northumberland National Park and Newcastle University.

If you think you might wish to get involved in NULAG as we refresh our membership, please get in touch with me at or 01830 540260.



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