Banging the drum for Westcountry's cider makers
Fresh from one of the regular receptions the cider industry hosts for MPs and Peers, Bridgwater and West Somerset Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger tells Farming Minister David Heath the growers are ready for yet another year of challenges.
Good to see you taking a quick break from the treadmill to drop into the cider makers' reception, particularly since we were able to furnish you with a jigger of Somerset's finest.
Any time spent in the company of cider makers tends to be most jovial – and that's nothing to do with the beneficial effect of modest imbibing of their products. There seems to be a natural warmth of character about them. Perhaps it's all down to the pleasure they evidently derive from working so close to nature.
NEW IN : for those cold winter nights highland check dog and cat beds in stock, fleecy and washable ideal for those nights snuggling by the fire...... available in 3 colourways
Contact: 01271 440626
Valid until: Saturday, January 25 2014
And as chairman of the Parliamentary Cider Group I shall continue to bang the drum as loudly as I possibly can for a fair deal for craft ciders in the duty department. We really do need those jobs in rural areas; we really do need the wildlife havens that orchards offer; and we really do need to ensure that the small cider makers survive, thrive and prosper, because they, after all, are just as important to our cider tradition as the larger players.
What sort of an apple harvest we can expect this year after the trees have been sitting so long in waterlogged ground I'm not sure, but having spent so much time talking to cider producers I know they regard each climatic setback as a challenge to be overcome.
On the subject of weather it gives me no pleasure to report that floodwaters are on their way back up again in parts of the county. Apparently the Environment Agency has conceded that something has to be done to improve drainage, but the way things stand no one will be able to get on the land to do anything for weeks, even if it stops raining with immediate effect.
I'm also getting reports that the agency has been pleading poverty, telling people it has enough money for capital schemes but too little for dredging, which comes under the heading of maintenance.
If that is the case it is an absolute nonsense. It's like me telling you I can't afford to buy you a pint of cider because I've only got 25 pence in my left trouser pocket and although there's 25 quid in the other one, that's reserved for procuring the shopping.
The other bit of bean-countery which has been waved around is the need to secure an economic return on flood prevention work, under which formula urban areas are always going to win hands down. But you simply cannot take all decisions using nothing more than a pocket calculator any more than you can shrug, declare the Somerset Levels to be technically a flood plain and therefore, that those who live there should expect to get flooded.
We appear to be moving into new and uncharted climatic waters which will need a new, enlightened and flexible approach – so I am delighted that at last it has been recognised that we cannot go on playing by the old rules and that a real effort is now under way to make out an economic case for the dredging which the drainage boards have ben pleading for for years. The tragedy is, of course, that it has taken the submersion of perfectly good farmland for the best part of a year to concentrate minds.