Posted by: westlancashirerecord | November 6, 2018

Will Our High Performing Agricultural Industry Be Damaged By Development For Housing?

As WLBC states in its Local Plan Review “The amount of best and most versatile agricultural land in the Borough is a regionally important resource and is vital to the high performing agricultural industry in West Lancashire” we wonder what that vitality means in its pursuit of major housing development.

Livestock and dairy farming is far more important than arable production in the broader Lancashire area. In 2013, 83.8% of the total agricultural area in the county was classified under the temporary and permanent grassland or rough grazing headings (England = 48.6%).

The top grade farming land in West Lancashire means that the area is a significant producer of field vegetables and crops under glass/plastic . The farming land allocated to fruit and vegetable production in West Lancashire represents 94% of the Lancashire total (64% of the North West total).

In terms of employment, DEFRA food and farming statistics estimate a total Lancashire workforce (which includes farmers, managers, employees and casual labour) of some 10,000 people or about 3.4% of the England total.

National results highlight that total income from farming in 2015 was £3.77 billion. The yearly Agriculture in the UK reports detail the national position regarding farming income, the structure of the industry, prices and productivity etc. Headline figures in the report show that total income from farming fell between 2014 and 2015 by a very substantial 29% (£1,526million), to give a total figure of £3.77 billion.

Among the vast amount of information in the yearly agriculture reports are figures that consider the UK’s self-sufficiency position in food production. The food production to supply ratio is commonly referred to as the self-sufficiency ratio, which is calculated as farm-gate value of raw food production divided by the value of raw food for human consumption. The figures for 2015 reveal that the UK was 61% self-sufficient for all its food requirements and 75% for indigenous foods.

Agriculture represents the largest single land use in Lancashire and as well as its farming potential it is of considerable importance in terms of its role in safeguarding the environment and rural economy. The county has a large agricultural resource base that makes a major contribution to the nation’s food supply. The types of farming supported cover a remarkably wide range from intensive horticulture and general cropping in the coastal plains, dairying in the other lowland areas to cattle and sheep rearing in the upland regions. A significant proportion of these uplands are designated as “less favoured areas”, highlighting the limitations facing some farming enterprises in the county.

The most productive land in Lancashire is concentrated in the west of the county (mostly in the Fylde and West Lancashire) where much is classified by DEFRA as top grades 1 and 2, capable of growing a very wide range of agricultural and horticultural crops. Indeed, these areas represent the largest concentration of top quality farmland in the west of Britain.  Elsewhere land quality is less favourable: over 42% of the county’s land is classified as being of poorer quality grades 4 and 5 against 21% nationally. These poorer grades of land are best suited to grass crops or rough grazing.

Green belts are an enduring element of national planning policy and once designated, they are intended to be maintained as far as can be seen ahead. They are not inviolable but can only be altered in exceptional circumstances. Much of the top grade farmland in the county is also classified as green belt to provide additional protection against development.

Ribble Valley has by far the largest number of farm holdings in the county, 632 or 18.1% of the total. Together with Lancaster, West Lancashire and Wyre, these four authorities account for 55.9% of Lancashire’s farm holdings and 64.7% of total farmed area. Since the Second World War, agriculture in Lancashire and across the UK has become bigger, more intensive and more specialised. Output and productivity have increased enormously and in real terms, food prices have in general fallen. The swing from arable to less labour intensive grass in the local production pattern, increased mechanisation, improved production techniques, more efficient use of labour, the loss of holdings through urban developments and the availability of greater financial rewards to employees in jobs outside the industry all contributed to a long-term fall in agricultural employment.

Nowadays, the most up-to-date local employment results are the DEFRA food and farming statistics. They estimate a total Lancashire workforce (which includes farmers, managers, employees and casual labour) of some 10,000 people or about 3.4% of the England total. The intensive land use farming in West Lancashire leads to the demand for regular and casual workers to supplement the numbers of farm owners, spouses and salaried managers. It is the only Lancashire authority with over 2,000 people classified as working in agriculture, and the only one with more regular and casual workers than farmers, their family and managers. Lancaster, Ribble Valley and Wyre also had employment numbers in excess of 1,000. Together with West Lancashire, these four authorities accounted for 62.6% of agricultural employment in the Lancashire-14 area.

West Lancashire sells farm products throughout the UK. Flavourfresh Solfresh Group  of Banks, West Lancashire, leading UK salad producer; George Speight and Sons Ltd, long-established Lancaster based supplier of fresh and ready prepared fruit and vegetables; and Huntapac Produce Ltd, growers, packers and distributors of organic and conventional root vegetables, brassicas and salads.

Len Wright Salads  in Tarleton grow in excess of 500 acres of salad crops  that include celery and lettuce. Nowadays, a very important aspect of the company is the marketing side of the business. It sources produce from a number of local growers to improve the company’s ability to respond effectively to the demands of the major supermarkets and food processors. This also facilitates savings for growers from product specialisation, and the development of economics of scale. Also in the locality is Bryans Salads that suppliers of pre packed salads and vegetables. The propagation of plants is classified within the agriculture sector and the West Lancashire area is home to a number of sites that grow bedding and other plants under glass. Lovania Nurseries Ltd is one of the UK’s leading plant growers, wholesalers, and contract growers, producing over 65 million bedding, alpine, flowering and bulb pot plants each year. This long-established company operates from over 42 acres of glasshouses across a number of sites in the Tarleton area.

Quantil, near Ormskirk, offers an extensive range of plants and seeds. Also of note is Golden Acres in West Lancashire. The website states that they are Europe’s largest manufacturer of own label, premium dry pet foods.

South West Lancashire Farmers  in Skelmersdale was established in 1921, and is a farmer-owned and controlled agricultural merchants, supplying animal feeds, fertilisers, seeds and other farm requisites and also undertake grain trading, throughout Lancashire and South Cumbria.

In West Lancashire in particular, much of the rural area is classified as green belt land which severely restricts development. The designation does protect farmland, but it also presents challenges when agricultural businesses submit plans for new buildings to achieve economies of scale. Notwithstanding the rights of farmers to offer their land for development, opponents of it also have rights to object to it. Attend meetings and consider your options. They will affect West Lancashire for ever! 

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