Farmers must be at the heart of a future UK domestic agricultural policy, and food production must be at the policy’s core, NFU president Minette Batters emphasised to Defra secretary of state Michael Gove this week.
Mrs Batters was speaking at a joint NFU and Defra consultation event on the Health and Harmony proposals for a British agricultural policy post-Brexit. She requested that government engage with farmers so they are empowered to deliver the reforms that may follow Brexit, to make sure the changes benefit UK agriculture.
The NFU has held a series of member meetings across the country to inform its consultation response which is due at the end of this week.
“Food production is at the heart of everything we do,” stressed Ms Batters. “While there are a whole host of endeavours we turn our hand to – energy provision, rural tourism, business services, environmental management – if we’re not producing food, we’re not farmers.
“And as food producers, we deliver so much for the country that sometimes goes unrecognised; the management of our treasured landscapes as occupiers of over 70% of the UK landmass; growth, investment and employment in rural businesses as well as in our hugely successful food industry; and a secure and reliable supply of food, delivering affordable, trusted and safe produce to all the British public regardless of where they live or what their income is.
“Not only is it important that this is recognised, but also that we ensure, in an uncertain future, we don’t take any steps that undermine those high British food and farming standards, standards we know the British people value as much as we do. We must also take a close look at the standards of the food we import. It would be short sighted to pursue a policy that reduces British food production and means this country relies increasingly on food produced elsewhere in the world where we have little control over how it was produced.
“During the last few months I’ve been heartened to see a growing enthusiasm for change, but there remains understandable apprehension about the speed and scope of reform. And this leads me to a critical point. Farmers must be engaged and empowered to deliver the reforms that are coming. Otherwise there is a real risk that any future changes could be to the benefit of no one.”