Smaller businesses in the farming and food sector must be nurtured not overlooked in policy towards small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

That was the warning from Anthea McIntyre, Conservative spokesman on agriculture and rural affairs, at a conference in the European Parliament on SME policy and regulation.

The MEP for the West Midlands told fellow MEPs and industry experts from a range of sectors that she was a director herself of three SMEs - including a smallholding at her home in Herefordshire.

She was addressing SME Europe - a policy group instigated by the Centre Right European People's Party - at a forum in Strasbourg, and was the only non-EPP member to give a presentation.

She stressed that agriculture as a whole needed politicians to focus on evidence and science-based lawmaking, on regulation and licensing regimes that did not stifle innovation, and on a balanced approach that considered the impact and  burden of new rules, especially on smaller enterprises.

She said: "One policy area I have pursued vigorously is the potential of new technologies to make agriculture more sustainable and more productive.

"It is vital that the benefits of these new ways of working - from robotics to precision spraying to new breeding techniques - are available to small growers and not just the big industrial-scale farms.

"We have to make sure we support these innovations here in Europe - otherwise we will see their development exported to more supportive countries while we are left  to import the results."

Jo Hilditch, the woman who turned down the dragons of Dragon's Den, joined the Herefordshire Conservative Business Breakfast Forum, (HCBF), as the guest speaker, at the Harewood End Inn.

She is a Deputy Lieutenant of Herefordshire and Managing Director of Whittern Farms and White Heron Brands Ltd 

Mrs Hilditch was born and bred in Herefordshire and explained that as a child she grew up on the family farm.  In her 20s she travelled the world, started a number of small businesses and spent some time in public relations, including jobs with Countrywide Communications and Powerhouse PR.

After marrying she returned to work on the farm with her father, following the death of her brother.

She applied her PR background and was keen to diversify. This expanded the business into chicken production, growing blackcurrants for Ribena, cider apples for Bulmers and a self-catering tourism operation with 70 beds.

Mrs Hilditch told the forum how she had directed the company through ups and downs in the last 20 years. While mistakes had been made, she had continually identified opportunities for grant funding and diversification - which led to her most famous product, British Cassis. 

She told the group how she was encouraged to appear on Dragon’s Den as a platform for her cassis, and ended up refusing the offer made by three dragons because she did not like their terms.

She subsequently rebranded the product and it has gone from strength to strength. It was now a premium British liquor and sold as the “drink of choice” in the Royal Academy, she said.

Asked about challenges faced, she said: “Farming is a male-orientated industry, and being female has led to much prejudice along the way. Other challenges affecting farming include employment, the environment, Brexit and of course the unknown”.

Anthea McIntyre MEP, Chairman of the forum, later said: “Jo is a brilliant entrepreneur and a great ambassador for women in agriculture.”

Anthony Snell thanked the speaker and said: "Jo has an interesting, diverse background and her British Cassis is uniquely healthy and well marketed. We loved watching Dragons Den and how you turned them down.”


West Midlands MEP Anthea McIntyre has warmly welcomed today's announcement by Jaguar Land Rover of large-scale investment in its plant at Caste Bromwich.

The money will make the factory ready for producing the next generation of electric cars, a move which the Conservative MEP described as a massive vote of confidence.

Miss McIntyre said: "Some recent announcements about JLR's activity in the West Midlands have sadly not been so positive - but these have largely been cyclical changes or responses to shifting market dynamics.

"The fundamentals of the company - its skills base and its expertise in engineering and technological advance - are still of the best.  The Jaguar and Land Rover brands remain synonymous with excellence, quality and style and so what we see here is the company retooling to take those brands into a new and exiting era.

"It is a massive vote of confidence in the region and its workforce, an one that secures hundreds of jobs."

Anthea McIntyre MEP has been reappointed Conservative Agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament.

As a staunch advocate for the role of advancing technologies in farming, she has been an influential voice in the parliament for the appliance of sound science in regulation.

She will also sit as spokesman on the Environment Committee, which considers issues such as licensing of crop sprays and other treatments.

Miss McIntyre, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, jointly farms a smallholding at her home in Herefordshire.  

She supported farmers in campaigning for a new licence for the widely-used herbicide glyphosate. She also opposed a report by the parliament's temporary committee on pesticides which sought to make the approval process for plant protection products even more difficult than it is now.

She said:  "Farming is one of the key areas where decisions made in Brussels have a very direct impact on people's livelihoods and on our food security.

"Of course we expect that the UK will be leaving the EU sooner rather than later, but while we are there, it is vital that we speak up for Britain and for British food and farming."

International artist Salma Zulfiqar outlined her work among immigrant and refugee communities at a meeting of campaigners against hate crime.

Members of the campaign group West Midlands Together heard how her workshops used artworks and installations to promote harmony and integration.

Hailing from Smethwick, Birmingham, she worked for the United Nations Organisation with female refugees in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Sudan before setting up the Migration Project back in Birmingham.

She said: "Art has an important role to play in promoting peace as it helps  women open up to discuss things they never have before. Religion does not come into it and I have no political affiliations - it's about people feeling comfortable and having a frank conversation."

Anthea McIntyre, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands and founder of West Midlands Together, said: "It was fascinating to hear how Salma uses her artistic talent and creativity to engage with women who might otherwise feel isolated.

"The art work provides the perfect safe space for people to start to reach out beyond their immediate families and community.

"The goals of Salma's Migration Project chime perfectly with our own and I hope we can continue to work together."

West Midlands Together was founded by Miss McIntyre and her Labour colleague Neena Gill as a cross-party initiative following a spike in hate crime after the 2016 referendum.