Agriculture is facing the most significant change for a generation with Brexit. We are on the cusp of another pivotal moment, as we prepare to leave the Common Agricultural Policy and once again take sovereign control of our agricultural affairs. And if we get it right, UK agriculture can deliver much more for the economy, environment and society in the future.
Here in Kent, the Garden of England, the vital role of farmers and growers as food producers, countryside custodians and employers is well recognised. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the annual Kent County Show. Maintaining robust and resilient domestic food production is in the nation’s interest and the NFU believes that future agricultural policy must support farmers in their strategic role. Food production must be at the heart of a successful post-Brexit agricultural policy.
We make this very clear in our wide-ranging and in-depth response to the UK Government’s Command Paper, Health and Harmony: the Future of Food, Farming and the Environment in a Green Brexit. We are confident that our position captures the views of the great diversity of farm businesses around the country, having canvassed the views of our 55,000 members when compiling our submission.
The NFU is concerned that the Government’s proposals are not always clear and at times contradictory. For us there is an inherent tension between the Government’s international trading objectives and its demands of the domestic industry. We are worried that through pursuing a trade policy that overly focuses on the price of food, and overlooks its quality, provenance and environmental impact, the Government could undermine British production and put our businesses at risk. However, we know that British people want to continue to enjoy more of this sustainable, affordable food at a range of prices to suit all incomes. I am clear that British farmers and growers can remain the number one supplier of choice, but it is crucial that trade policy delivers a level playing field among global competitors and a positive operating environment from Government.
Also key to a well-functioning supply chain is adequate access to a workforce that is able to help farmers and growers pick, pack and process food. But last autumn’s 30 per cent shortfall in seasonal workers on farms underlines why the NFU continues to call on Government to introduce, as a matter of urgency, a global seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme this year.
Government must provide such certainty by giving farm businesses a time-frame to plan, adapt and invest. Public investment in agriculture must remain effective in promoting productivity, with fair reward for environmental delivery and measures for managing price volatility. Famers are already doing so much to care for the environment and a future farmed environment scheme must include a mixture of incentives that will help farmers deliver practical action.
A strong and profitable agricultural sector will benefit the public with a safe and traceable supply of home-grown food, produced to high standards for animal welfare and the environment, while supporting jobs and investment. The NFU will continue to press home these messages in the coming months to policy and decision-makers throughout the passage of the Agriculture Bill, with the aim of securing a successful Brexit for agriculture in March 2019 and beyond.
President of the NFU