The constituency of Somerton and Frome is one of rural splendour, you’ll agree. At this time of year, the morning sunlight nibbles at those sprouting hedgerows and blossoming orchards, it folds itself over our wilting daffodils, and punctures through to stumbling footpaths nestling between tumbling streams. Sunshine gently bakes ancient the stone walls, thaws out the gambling lambs, coaxes life from expectant fields and so on and so forth.
Yes, it is unquestionably a scene of bucolic splendour. And a very special one too. I am reliably informed - by the steadfast Wine and Spirit Trade Association - that they believe there to be more small vineyards in our corner of England than in any other constituency in the country. Possibly.
Not only that, but there are more cattle too. You’ll not see more lowing anywhere else. Somerton and Frome boasts a surfeit of heifers, bulls, steers, calves, weanlings and yearlings. Our hooves are firmly planted on the bovine map.
So who manages this Dionysian paradise? Who ensures that those orchards are trimmed, that the hedgerows are whittled (though not, of course, at the wrong time), and that those walls don’t crumble and decay under the West Country sun?
On a regular basis, I like to meet with those responsible. And so, last week, I met local farmers and the National Farmers’ Union, to talk about farming and also of course to answer their many and various questions.
With a pretty decent turnout and lots of familiar faces, I talked to them for more than two hours, on everything from bridleways and footpaths to TB.
Sadly for Bacchus, vineyards didn’t come up, but we covered a lot of ground. And there’s no prize available for identifying the enormous tusked beast which stood grinning in the middle of the room, slapping itself with its trunk and fanning its ears.
The elephantine European Union stuck its enormous foot into almost everything we discussed. However much endangered this particular elephant might be, the EU is very much a part of life for farmers. Some 40 per cent of the EU budget goes to farming: a colossal sum which keeps our industry – and our countryside – alive.
Naturally, of overriding concern to farmers are those very payments. If the EU elephant were to leave the room, would the British Government continue to provide support? Happily, I was able to draw upon the innumerable statements from the farming minister George Eustice, which whom I have of course discussed this very issue.
He’s been pretty clear that, if anything, we’d be able to give farmers more. Right now, we give our money to the EU, then they give about half back, with some 80 per cent of Defra legislation attached. Norway and Switzerland manage to give their farmers more and we could too.
Whether or not this particular elephant is endangered, we’ll soon see. But, either way, we’ll certainly take care to look after the Arcadian paradise we all enjoy.