Hampshire relies on its farmers for three reasons. 

First, agriculture is a key industry in our county’s economy, providing skilled jobs and supporting thousands of small and medium-sized businesses. 

Second, our farmers nurture and protect our landscape and environment, without which Hampshire would not be the special county that it is. Finally, and most importantly, our farmers provide us with the food that we need to live!

Farmers have had an incredibly tough time over the last four years. Covid made it hard to hire the right workers at the right time. Then the price of fuel, fertiliser and feed all surged at the same time.

The increase in extreme weather events over the last four years has not helped at all. We have seen unprecedented storms and rainfall which has caused widespread waterlogging, often making it very difficult to get tractors safely into the fields. Hampshire’s farmers have shown great resilience to battle through these challenges.

But it has not been easy for them. Now more than ever, we need to come together to support our farmers. At Hampshire County Council we are doing everything we can to help. Through our County Farms network of 30 farms, spread right across the county, we are giving young farmers opportunities and support. We invest in infrastructure at these farms and share machinery. Our County Farms are active in the community, regularly hosting school groups and visitors. Many of our farms will be participating in Open Farm Sunday on June 9. Please do come along if you would like to find out more, we would love to see you there.

READ MORE: British Farming Awards 2024 to celebrate UK agriculture excellence

We know that hedgerows and trees are good for farms. Hedgerows provide a habitat for insects which then control crop pests, reducing the need for costly pesticides. Trees provide shade for animals and soak up excess water. For these reasons, at HCC we are supporting farmers by planting trees and hedgerows at farms across the county through our Hampshire Forest Partnership. Since 2022 we have planted more than 41,250 trees but we want to go further and faster. We have a target of one million trees by 2050. We would love to hear from any farmers who would like to work with us. Just search 'Hampshire Forest Partnership' to find out more about how to get involved.

HCC is also helping farmers to take advantage of the new subsidy regime, the Environmental Land Management System (ELMs). HCC is playing a leading role in developing and testing an innovative National Partnership for ELMs delivery in Hampshire. Funded by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, this is a national pilot; we are very proud that Hampshire has been chosen for this project. Through the scheme we have developed a new land app which makes it easy for farmers to pick the interventions that get them the best funding deal whilst supporting nature recovery. Consultation is currently underway.

I want to mention that Hampshire politicians like me have also been lobbying government persistently to increase support for farmers. And we have had some success with this. Rishi Sunak is a Hampshire man and he gets it. In February this year, the Prime Minister announced an additional £220m package for farmers which is a step in the right direction. I believe there is more to come – we will keep pressing our MPs and Ministers.

What can Hampshire residents do to help support our farmers?  In a nutshell, you can support Hampshire’s farmers by buying their produce. On the weekend, consider paying a visit to your local farm shop or attending a local farmers market. Always check the label in the supermarket and buy Hampshire produce wherever possible. If your regular supermarket does not stock Hampshire produce, then try a different supermarket. Similarly, always encourage your butcher to buy from local farms. Less food miles is also better for the planet!

A lot is at stake here. Our countryside and our prosperity depend on maintaining a thriving farming sector. Let’s show our farmers that we value what they do by going out of our way to buy their milk, meat, fruit, cheese and other local products.

Cllr Russell Oppenheimer, 
Cabinet Member for Countryside at Hampshire County Council