Connecting Farming and Food in Englandâ€™s Northwest
Scene setting In 2003
The North West Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food (SSFF) delivery plan resulted in a direct programme of investment totalling over £1.2 million that focused on gaps in provision identified at that time.
Will Cockbain is North West Regional Champion for Sustainable Food and Farming.
This activity was independently evaluated in Summer 2008, and the evaluation concluded that delivery was well aligned strategically, merging top-down national priorities with bottom-up regional issues. The adoption of this ‘gaps’ approach was pragmatic, given the level of funding available for direct delivery and investment was found to have performed well in achieving strategic added value. The evaluation further concluded that an influencing role should have been established from the outset – in effect endorsing the governance that is now in place, with a largely private sector SSFF Influencing Group for the North West, chaired by Will Cockbain, that seeks to influence and shape regional and sub-regional delivery. The evaluation also found that a stronger emphasis on core priorities was required and that these needed to be better communicated. The aim of this vision document is to build on the findings of the evaluation and take SSFF forward in the North West.
Working with the SSFF Influencing Group, other regional partners and stakeholders, I am developing a strategic approach to delivering SSFF, in order to address the longer-term needs of the farming and food sectors. Our vision for farming and food in the North West over the coming decade is one in which we can all enjoy eating excellent local food from fantastic upland and lowland landscapes that are cared for by vibrant communities, while retaining farming as a key component. We see farming and food sectors that are adapting to climate change and mitigating its impact, with public sector investment helping to deliver this vision. This will ultimately lead to vibrant, connected, profitable and competitive farming and food sectors that deliver wider health and community benefits. We need to add value to public investment, and where possible the whole ethos of SSFF should be about integrated projects that offer sustainable development, resource efficiency and low carbon benefits. We want to see a balance struck, with a farming industry that produces high-quality food while recognising the importance of good environmental management, and a public that recognises the importance of sustainably grown food within a secure food supply chain Partnerships, from the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) local action groups, to the North West Rural Affairs Forum, will be vital in driving these priorities forward. Through partnership working at regional and sub-regional levels, collaborative projects will help deliver social, economic or environmental benefits. Together we can inspire and shape investment in the region and demonstrate how SSFF priorities can be delivered.
The development of the Regional Strategy for the North West (RS2010) provides an unique opportunity to bring together the region’s spatial, economic, social and environmental strategies and so build a new long-term vision for the region. SSFF has already adopted this integrated framework approach, bringing together all three pillars of sustainability. In summary SSFF in the North West needs to build on the strong foundations we already have in place and improve on our experiences to date. This will include increasing industry leadership of and buy-in to the delivery of SSFF, as well as a more focused and strategic approach to tackling SSFF issues. Will Cockbain SSFF NW Regional Champion c/o Natural Environment and Rural Team Government Office for the Northwest City Tower Piccadilly Plaza Manchester M1 4BE
Vision Priority – Food: A market-responsive sector that celebrates and builds on our rich and diverse food heritage and raises consumer awareness of food and nutrition.
The North West region has an internationally competitive and nationally important food and drink sector. As a board member of the regional sector organisation Food Northwest, I intend to ensure that we continue to build on this legacy. Food policy is growing in importance for the UK Government, driven by issues such as security and resilience of supply, affordability and accessibility, and the environmental sustainability of supply chains, as well as the need to encourage healthier diets in order to help tackle health issues including obesity and diet-related cancers. This emphasis on food policy makes supporting the food sector through SSFF highly relevant in terms of helping to achieve profitable farming and food industries in the North West. The region’s tourism strategy emphasises that providing outstanding food and drink, using local produce as much as possible, is a key part of offering visitors an excellent experience of the region. Our region’s ‘hero products’, such as Cumberland sausage, Lancashire black pudding, Southport shrimps, Manchester Eccles cakes, Cheshire apple juice and the excellent cheeses produced in Lancashire and Cheshire, offer just a few examples that are already nationally recognised. Local and regional niche food products have an important role to play, and opportunities to link food products better with tourism should be developed by the region’s farm-and food-based businesses. Nutrition is an equally significant area, in which the North West is leading the way with its Food and Health Action Plan (FAHAP). Addressing health inequalities in the region is of paramount importance in both urban and rural areas.
Public sector procurement also has a significant part to play in this agenda, especially in terms of schools and hospitals procuring food locally. We also have other excellent procurement examples in the North West, including the collaborative food delivery hubs and food co-operatives. Our horticultural areas, in the heart of our city regions, are a resource that is rich in opportunity to supply healthy local produce to urban communities.
The North West Food and Drink Strategy has been prepared by Food Northwest on behalf of the region, to promote a profitable and sustainable regional food and drink industry that can improve its competitiveness in a global market place. Daughter action plans have been developed for red meat, dairy and local food. The Food and Health Action Plan, produced by the North West Food and Health Task Force, seeks to improve health and well-being and to address health inequalities across the North West population through better food and nutrition.
Priority – Uplands: A hill-farming sector that is able to enhance its environmental credentials as a custodian of the uplands while improving its market opportunities Food production, especially livestock farming, has played an important part in creating and maintaining much of the landscape character we know and love in the North West. From the uplands of the Lake District, where I farm, to Bowland and the Peak District, a profitable farming base remains vital to a balanced food supply chain and the preservation of cultural heritage, and is fundamental to managing some of the most picturesque parts of the region. The uplands as environmental assets offer many additional benefits to the public, such as recreation, water management, carbon storage and biodiversity, to name just a few. These multiple attributes are beginning to be considered together in what is termed “ecosystem services”. We need to ensure that they are properly valued, with public investment in the shape of the new Uplands Entry Level Scheme and Higher Level Stewardship Scheme being crucial delivery instruments.
The Uplands Inquiry, conducted by the Commission for Rural Communities, will also have a role in shaping future policy on upland communities. Natural England’s Upland Futures project will also be important in influencing future policy instruments and investment opportunities for upland areas, especially in the delivery of ecosystem services.
Priority – Climate Change Farming and food sectors that can identify and develop market opportunities arising from climate change Climate change and of the need to develop a low-carbon economy are high on the regional and national agenda, and the farming and food sectors are in a key position to contribute positively to both mitigation and adaptation. We need to ensure that awareness is raised and that opportunities such as those offered by anaerobic digestion and energy crops are explored and, where appropriate, grasped. Waste and how we deal with it is also an issue that the agricultural industry in the North West needs to address. Generating energy from waste is an attractive proposition, and well-located farms have the potential to diversify into this area, although it is not likely to suit all farms.
By delivering natural resource efficiency, the Environment Agency aims to protect the region’s soil, water and air – careful management of resources makes sense for both environmental and business reasons. The North West Climate Change Action Plan aims to stimulate and measure the progress of England’s North West towards a low-carbon economy, preparing it for the challenges of a changing climate and expected future energy demands, while protecting and enhancing quality of life and preserving the region’s rich environment.
Influencing Investment European Funding RDPE in the North West Rural development in the shape of the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) is an example of the type of investment vehicle fundamental to the successful delivery of SSFF. In the North West, approximately £374 million is available over the period 2007 to 2013 for capital and revenue expenditure with many of the target beneficiaries within the land-based and primary production sector. RDPE is structured around three axes, underpinned by cross-cutting themes and a Leader approach. Funding partners the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA), the Forestry Commission and Natural England have developed a joint Regional Implementation Plan outlining how RDPE resources are to be awarded and how the programme will complement and work with other relevant strategies such as SSFF.
Influencing The direction of financial interventions in the North West is vital if we are to avoid the development of discrete sets of solutions for SSFF. Good communication is critical to successfully identifying and achieving local, sub-regional, regional and national priorities. The North West Rural Affairs Forum has played an important role within the region, acting as a consultative body, contributing to the shaping of key regional documents, and providing feedback from stakeholders, potential deliverers and beneficiaries. There is not a dedicated funding mechanism available to deliver SSFF, so mainstreamed budgets and European programmes need to be utilised where appropriate.
The North West Livestock Programme will focus on improving farm competitiveness through better animal health and welfare and greater efficiency in the use of farm resources such as fertiliser, fuel, water and energy – two of the five priority themes identified in the SSFF Forward Look in 2006.
Key delivery issues identified for RDPE mirror those of this SSFF vision, and there is therefore a fantastic opportunity for RDPE to deliver many of the SSFF priorities. Reconnection and integration are strong underpinning principles for SSFF and also resonate strongly with the aspirations of RDPE. Solid foundations for delivery of RDPE in the North West are in place, with eight local action groups (LAGs) approved across all the 5 sub regions of the North West. A key role of the vision will be to influence the LAGs to ensure that they keep SSFF principles on their radar, so maximising strategic added value.
ERDF in the North West The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is a significant source, with a total of £521 million available to enhance the competitiveness of the region’s economy by supporting the creation of the right conditions for growth in employment and enterprise, and so complementing the North West Regional Economic Strategy.
Sectors, Enterprise and Skills Key areas for investment, which are primary drivers for securing competitive, profitable and connected farming and food sectors, are enterprise (innovation and entrepreneurship) and skills (training and research). Both these areas cut across SSFF and are fundamental pillars of regional policy that influence investment within the Regional Economic Strategy.
Business Support Services Business Link Northwest acts as a single point of contact for business support services. There is a strong food and drink business team that supports businesses in delivering SSFF objectives. Other flagship services, such as Train to Gain, also have a role to play in delivering SSFF, potentially helping employers of all sizes and in all sectors to obtain training advice and support. It is therefore important that we raise awareness of SSFF priorities on the part of Business Link Northwest and its partners, to ensure that we can add to their services and avoid duplication and provide ‘Solutions for Businesses’ in the Farming and Food sectors.
Single-pot investment by the NWDA will also be guided by a raft of strategies, including the North West Enterprise Strategy and the NWDA Rural Policy. The latter focuses on the themes of: • improving productivity and ensuring ongoing sustainable growth; • creating a skilled workforce by growing size and capability; and • creating and maintaining conditions for sustainable growth, including diversification.
Similarly, influencing Natural England and the Forestry Commission who fund key environmental elements of the RDPE programme through Axis Two is also fundamental to this vision. These include the Higher and Entry Level Environmental Stewardship and the Woodland Grant Schemes.
In the North West, Higher Level Stewardship has resulted in the identification of 19 ‘multiobjective’ target areas covering about 40% of the region. Renewable energy is a priority for the RDPE programme, and for forestry the real opportunity is in processed wood fuel, with both supplyside and demand-side support needed.
Inspiration and achievements Diversification A real opportunity for farmers to diversify their core business as well as for the development of new business opportunities includes woodland. Direct utilisation of woodland for wood fuel production, or its use as a setting for tourism ventures could link with English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS) funding an access route for horse riding. LAGs could then support an equestrian venture or fund the management of woodland for biodiversity outcomes or the production and marketing of wood fuel.
Inspiration A flavour of the projects delivering SSFF objectives is given in this section, with many projects now entering the next stage of their implementation following receipt of direct SSFF funding or as a result of other interventions.
Sustainable Catchment Management Programme From 2005 to 2010, United Utilities, land managers and the RSPB are working together to deliver the Sustainable Catchment Management Programme (SCaMP), a project that aims to improve water quality and encourage wildlife. It aims to apply an integrated approach to catchment management within the two key areas of Bowland and the Peak District. This will help to deliver government targets for Sites of Special Scientific Interest, enhance biodiversity and improve water quality. Interventions to re-wet, re-vegetate and restore bogs and peat will also have additional benefits, enhancing their capacity to store carbon and reducing their oxidation and the resultant carbon dioxide emissions.
Soil is the basic platform for all agriculture. It also carries out many essential functions which regulate and support the environment we live in.
North West region co-operative grain storage The North West is not generally thought of as a centre of grain production, but it does produce significant volumes of wheat and barley for the animal feed industry and other processors. The supply of grain and location of these feed processors are vital to the viability and sustainability of the region’s livestock sector. A group of farmers working with EFFP is conducting a feasibility study into the development of a co-operative storage facility in order to better meet the needs of its customers within the North West. This work is nearing completion and has been funded by farmers and the public sector (NWDA via RDPE).
Other projects allowed teachers themselves to receive training in farming and the countryside. Many of these projects were located on farms and showed how links with the curriculum could be made, hopefully influencing the teachers’ future classroom approaches. Farming and Countryside Education, a registered charity, is continuing the legacy of YoFF with the Think Food and Farming project. This will enable much of the momentum created by the year to continue and will allow more schools and children to become engaged with the countryside and how their food is produced.
Woodlands – Woodland covers 6.8% of England’s North West (96,171 hectares), but nearly half of this valuable resource is under-managed or unmanaged, with much of the untapped economic woodland resource being located on farms.
Skills Myerscough College in Preston developed a range of workbooks aimed at building farmer capacity through a clear framework to develop both themselves and, in turn, their businesses. The workbooks developed included modules on soil and boundary management. The aim of the project was to provide a coherent package of learning opportunities to farmers and rural businesses
Collaborative Advisory Service Programmes such as the Collaborative Advisory Service, which ran from September 2005 to March 2008, have been used to add regional depth to national initiatives. English Farming and Food Partnerships (EFFP), a specialist consultancy formed as a result of the national SSFF in 2003, is one such example. Between September 2005 and March 2008 the EFFP team provided business assistance to 850 businesses in the North West agri-food sectors. The raising of awareness of what collaboration could offer such businesses has resulted in the development of new supply chains and potential initiatives such as the co-operative grain store proposal described below.
Local and regional food
Field trials of non-food crops for biofuel and other industrial uses were carried out with Defra SSFF support in 2006 as part of the Future Fields project at the University of Cumbria’s Newton Rigg campus. Oilseed rape, hemp and crambe were grown in replicated trials on the university farm to obtain baseline yield data for the region and to compare their economic returns.
Support for local and regional food has grown in recent years, with farmers now well placed to supply the right products to a more responsive consumer base. Nationally it is estimated that this market has grown by some 35% since 2003, and there is no evidence to suggest that this picture has not been replicated in the North West.
Good yields were obtained from all the crops and the Future Fields project has since expanded to include biodiesel production on campus, using oilseed rape and crambe seed grown in the SSFF trials. Installation of the biodiesel facilities has generated much interest and local growers will soon be able to use them to process their own crops as part of the Newton Rigg campus biofuel ring.
Here, there are many examples of opportunities being grasped, such as the case of The Pie Mill, based at Blencathra, Cumbria. This business produces over 3,000 pies a week, including the award-winning Blencathra beef and ale pie and the Buttermere roasted vegetable pie. These are supplied to a wide range of individual and retail customers either directly or through mail order, as well as to the public sector. For example, the business is supplying pies to Cumbrian schools on a three-year contract, which provides it with some degree of security.
Think Food and Farming The Year of Food and Farming (YoFF) was a national initiative which ran from September 2007 to July 2008, with the aim of offering children the opportunity to reconnect with the countryside around them and learn how their food is produced. This was not a new idea, as Sir Donald Curry saw when he visited St James Primary School in Worsley Mesnes, Wigan in November 2007. The school had established a garden allowing children in all year groups to see and participate in the growing of food. This not only benefited the children but brought the additional outcomes of reduced levels of vandalism in the school and improved parental engagement.
The region’s producers are well placed to offer a wide range of food and drink products in local, regional and speciality markets, with growth opportunities available in areas such as food service and through better links to the region’s tourism offer. Businesses can receive support through initiatives such as the Enrich Programme, hosted at Reaseheath College in Nantwich, Cheshire. This initiative was established in April 2008 with the aim of increasing enterprise activity and innovation within the food and drink industry, not just within Cheshire but across the North West.
Summary by Sir Donald Curry Guidelines for Healthier Catering and Hospitality A healthier workforce is a more productive workforce and to support this FAHAP produced a set of guidelines for healthier catering and hospitality at work. These guidelines provide practical advice for commissioners and suppliers to help ensure that healthier food options are available in the workplace. Advice is also provided to support the use of local and regional food and on holding meetings and events with a lower environmental impact. The guidelines have been widely adopted by organisations across the region as standard practice, with senior level endorsement. Training in their implementation has been provided. The guidelines were the first of their kind in the country and have since been amended by other regions for their own use. The guidelines have also influenced catering suppliers, many of whom now offer healthier options as standard practice. For example, the JJB Stadium in Wigan, a venue that hosts many meetings, events and conferences, has adopted the guidelines and now offers a ‘healthier options’ menu. This has proved a good business move, as the venue has won new bookings as a result of being able to offer such an option.
Food and Nutrition Diet is a major factor in the rising tide of obesity and overweight in the region. The other key factor is physical activity, and we should have a fantastic opportunity to promote the region’s natural environment, in the heart of our region’s food production, as the very place where everyone can enjoy the countryside while being physically active through walking, cycling and other outdoor activities. The regional Food and Health Action Plan (FAHAP) outlines a number of actions along the food supply chain to improve food and nutrition across the region through better access to and availability of safe and healthy food. Food production, processing and retail, catering and consumers all have a part to play.
In his role as Chair of the Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food Delivery Group, Sir Donald Curry has made five annual visits to the North West. He has consequently become very familiar not only with the challenges and opportunities the region faces, but also with its great diversity, which is without doubt one of its key strengths. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my visits to the North West and welcome the real progress that has been made in developing the rural economy in recent years. I fully endorse the work of Will Cockbain in establishing a renewed vision for farming and food in the North West, as set out in this document. These are challenging and changing times for all businesses, including the farming and food sectors, which inevitably will mean that new priorities come to the fore. A clear vision is therefore essential to ensure that government support is directed to where it is most needed. During my regional visits I have seen first-hand the opportunities for the region, with this year’s visit being no exception. On this occasion I saw Forest Hall, an upland organic unit supported by the North West Organic Centre; and The Pie Mill, a very innovative business that has truly thrived by developing a customer base that includes the public sector. In previous years I have visited each and every one of the region’s centres of land-based education and I am reassured that they are playing a significant part in ensuring the future not just of farming but of the wider rural economy of the North West as well.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my visits to the North West and welcome the real progress that has been made in developing the rural economy in recent years.
I have been impressed by the economic opportunities offered by the wider food sector in the region and the work of Food Northwest in developing these. Local and regional food has an important role in ensuring a vibrant rural economy, and it is particularly important to improve links between food and the region’s tourism offer. To conclude, I wish you well in taking forward this vision, which will help ensure that farming and food play their full part in delivering a vibrant and profitable rural economy for the North West.”
Sir Donald Curry KBE
Further Information Business Link Northwest www.businesslink.gov.uk/northwest
Natural England www.naturalengland.org.uk
Climate Change Northwest www.climatechangenorthwest.co.uk
North West Rural Affairs Forum (NWRAF) www.gos.gov.uk/gonw/news/nwraf
Northwest Regional Development Agency www.nwda.co.uk
English Farming and Food Partnerships www.effp.com
Reaseheath College www.reaseheath.ac.uk
Environment Agency www.environment-agency.gov.uk
Rural Development Programme for England www.nwda.co.uk/rdpe
Food and Health Taskforce www.nwph.net/food_health/default.aspx
Rural Development Programme for England Livestock Programme www.livestocknw.co.uk
Food Northwest www.foodnw.co.uk Forestry Commission www.forestry.gov.uk Government Office for the North West www.gos.gov.uk/gonw Myerscough College www.myerscough.ac.uk
Think Food and Farming www.thinkfoodandfarming.org.uk University of Cumbria www.cumbria.ac.uk