Montgomeryshire is a farming county. Its a whole lot more as well, but agriculture has always been at the heart of the local economy. And its quite true that as farming has changed over time, conflicts have arisen about how the industry should develop. Just such a conflict hit the headlines while I've been away on a family holiday - though the young farmer concerned had already discussed his plans with me before I left. A new proposal for a 1000 cow dairy unit near Welshpool has been submitted by local farmer, Fraser Jones.
There are two reasons why I start, instinctively from a position of supporting this dramatic proposal - subject to assurance that it satisfies proper environmental concerns. Firstly, my own background in 'farming' leads me to be aware that Montgomeryshire farmers must keep up with commercial developments to remain competitive. And secondly, I always start from a position of supporting planning proposals, unless I can see a good planning reason to refuse them - a basic principle that, in my opinion should always be applied to planning applications.
Now, I accept that there may be solid planning reasons to refuse Fraser Jones' 1,000 cow dairy unit on Lower Leighton Farm, (about one mile from the edge of Welshpool) - but not some of those I've heard being put forward so far. There is no logical reason to believe that a 1000 cow herd should have lower welfare standards than any other sized unit. And there is no reason to oppose dairy cows being indoors for about 250 days per year. Many farmers keep cows indoors for 250 days now, and some even zero graze. Almost all pigs and poultry are kept indoors. What always matters is that the animals are looked properly cared for, whether indoors or out.
Its interesting that a proposal taking dairying into a new dimension should have been proposed at Leighton, which has a glorious history in the field of agricultural pioneering. There are a host of conservation orders all over the Leighton Farm Estate that stand as monuments to the initiative and entrepreneurship of the Fraser Jones of previous centuries.
And while I'm about it, lets consider poultry houses. Several local farmers are deeply frustrated at present because local planners seem to have developed an antipathy to expansion of poultry units. Again, there may be strong reasons to refuse individual applications, but an attitude of being anti-expansion will simply drive the industry elsewhere. I've lost count of the times farmers have contacted me about this. At least one Montgomeryshire based agent will no longer deal with applications in Powys, because the whole process is so much easier in Shropshire. I really find it difficult to get my head around how a planning department can approve wind farms all over our beautiful mountains, and refuse jobs-providing farming enterprises in locations that can be landscaped.