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At the annual NFU conference, president Minette Batters urged the government to implement a clear plan and vision for British farming and food production. Entitled ‘British farming: a blueprint for the future’, the new report highlights five key areas the government, supply chain and farmers need to prioritise.
These include: commitment and investment from both government and retail to sell more British food at home and abroad, a new economic model that drives investment back into the land, a dial-up, dial-down immigration policy and a Future Farm policy with a properly funded Sustainable Farming Incentive.
While DEFRA has started setting out guidelines for the future of farming, the NFU considers this to be not urgent or detailed enough.
The NFU annual conference
Speaking at the conference, Batters explained: “I want to be clear from the outset. British farming has a lot to be positive about, to be proud of, and to believe in; our high standards of food production, our net-zero ambitions, our education programme which reached a third of a million children last year.
“But government does need to understand that we need certainty, commitment and consistency. We need a plan that pre-empts crises, rather than repeatedly runs into them. The current situation in the pig sector should have, and could have, been avoided. There are currently 200,000 pigs on contract backed up on farm. 40,000 healthy pigs have been culled and simply thrown away.
“This truly is an utter disgrace and a disaster for the pig industry. This is down to the government’s poorly designed change to immigration policy and what I can only say appears to be its total lack of understanding of how food production works and what it needs.
“But situations like this make me more and more determined to shape a new and better future for not only how we produce our food but how we achieve a fair return for it.
“This country needs a strategy and a clear vision for what we expect from British farming. We have completely contradictory government policies. It is raising the bar for environmental standards at home but pursuing trade deals which support lower standards overseas.
“It is claiming to value domestic food production but making it difficult to find workers to harvest or process it. It is stating there are many export opportunities for British food but failing to prioritise the resources to open up those new markets.
“If government wants to achieve more for the environment, then there is only one solution. We need policies and investment into the new world optimisation of agriculture. Polarised debates are getting us nowhere and they’re not allowing us to focus on the very real challenges around food supply in the future.
“Above and beyond everything, we need to all be working to the same objectives and aiming for the same outcome. There needs to be a plan. A plan which enables Britain to keep on farming and to continue to be world leaders in high quality, safe and sustainable food.”
Calling for greener farming
Gareth Morgan, the Soil Association‘s Head of Farming Policy joins the NFU in their call for more eco-friendly farming initiatives: “We are facing climate, nature and health crises that threaten our all of our futures and the government needs to wake up and implement agroecological, nature-friendly farming as part of the solution.
“The NFU is right to call for clarity – this is desperately needed for farmers who are facing challenges that will only worsen as the impacts of climate change are felt ever more acutely. The government’s Sustainable Farming Incentives is a step in the right direction, but more ambition is needed and it cannot be expected to work in isolation. We need fairer, shorter supply chains that prioritise nutritious food over cheap, ultra-processed food.
“We must stop signing trade deals that undercut our farmers by allowing imports that contribute to wiping out nature abroad. And we need a clear vision for British farming. The National Food Strategy has clearly said that most farmers on most UK land need to be farming agroecologically to reverse the climate, nature, and health crises. The government’s White Paper response to those recommendations will be a crucial test for its commitment to tackling these crises.”
At the NFU conference, George Eustice, environment secretary also made a speech, responding: “We’ve always been clear that we want to change from the old system - the Common Agricultural Policy - to the new system in a gradual way. We want this to be an evolution not a revolution. We’ve been clear about that from the start. The Agriculture Act actually sets out explicitly a seven-year transition period. And this will apply to every element of our policy.”
“But we do recognise that there are farmers who want to move faster and embrace things faster and that is why we have also increased payment rates in Countryside Stewardship by 30% on average, and we are encouraging those farmers who are not already in CS to engage with that programme. And it gives them the opportunity to engage with the schemes more ambitiously than the Sustainable Farming Incentive might enable them to.”
“But I believe there is a bright future for agriculture. We can be internationally competitive. The government wants to support farmers towards that more profitable future and to deliver many of those objectives set out in the NFU’s blueprint for the future. Thank you.”
Only time will tell if DEFRA will implement the NFU’s blueprint and take sufficient action quickly enough to prevent the British farming industry from falling into another crisis.