On Friday evening I spoke to a West Sussex Grassland Society meeting at Adversane and we discussed the outlook for local farming.

While some farmers are getting by, others are struggling.  With the downward pressure on milk prices and the scourge of bovine TB (thankfully not locally), the dairy sector continues to face particular challenges.

The number of dairy farmers in West Sussex has halved in the last decade, and some local producers were hit hard by the collapse of Dairy Farmers of Britain.

Farming can be a tough business.  On Wednesday I attended the 150th Anniversary thanksgiving service of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution in Westminster Abbey and listened to the testimonial of a farmer who had fallen on very hard times.  He's certainly not alone.

Britain faces an important challenge to increase food production while protecting the environment, and to do that we need a successful farming industry. 

We must also ensure that our most fertile farmland remains in production. 

As the slogan of one organisation which I met in Washington DC last week reminded me, "no farms, no food."

So this week, as part of a new farming agenda (which you can read on my website), I announced at the NFU's annual conference in Birmingham that, barring exceptional circumstances, a Conservative Government would not allow development on Grade 1 or 2 agricultural land.

Locally, we saw the proposed Ford "eco-town" where 5,000 houses would have been built largely on Grade 1 land.  And yet this counted for little in arguing against the proposal.

Fortunately we saw off that disastrous idea, but it's important that the best farmland is protected in future.  It's a national asset which we need to ensure our food security.

West Sussex was well represented at the NFU conference and I'd especially like to congratulate Gwyn Jones who was elected Vice President of the NFU this week.

It's great for the county to see a West Sussex farmer reach such a prominent position.  Gwyn has been a staunch advocate for dairy farming and I look forward to working with him.

Michelle Taylor