8 January 2016

Environment Minister addresses the Oxford Farming Conference

Elizabeth Truss today delivered a speech to delegates at the annual Oxford Farming Conference.

Global challenges

The flooding we have had to confront is one of a whole set of interlinked challenges in the environment, food and farming that face Britain and the world. They are of strategic importance. There are going to be well over 9 billion people in the world by 2050, needing 50 per cent more food and water than today. We will have to meet this demand while reducing the impact on the environment, and while extreme weather becomes more frequent.

The growth in world trade and prosperity will bring huge opportunities to sell our high-value, superb quality food and drink as long as we are at our most productive and competitive.

The people who reap full advantage will be the ones with the skills, the innovation, the investment—and the ambition.

Re-making Defra

We have secured £2.7 billion to invest in capital – 12 per cent more than in the previous five years. That includes a doubling of investment in our world-class capabilities in science and animal and plant health. We will invest in technology, digital systems, growing our exports, world-leading science, protection against animal health and plant disease – and of course flood defences. 

Defra and its organisations like the Environment Agency, APHA, the RPA and Natural England will in the future be more integrated, operating towards clear shared goals. And from July, the Environment Agency and Natural England will be using the same boundaries and the same plan. There will be one back office so we can put more resources into the front line, helping us save 15 per cent from our running costs, improving the value we provide to the taxpayer.

Under the leadership of James Bevan and James Cross, these organisations will be more pragmatic, responsive to local communities and better value.

Brussels

If our food and farming industry is to power ahead, it is vital that Brussels becomes more flexible, more competitive and cuts the red tape.

That is why I am fighting for reforms like getting rid of the three-crop rule, reforming the over-the-top audit and controls regime, and the absurd requirement for farmers to put up ugly posters in the countryside to publicise EU funding.

I fully support the Prime Minister’s renegotiation of our relationship with the EU. I have seen how hard he is fighting to get a better deal for Britain. Of course it is difficult – negotiating with 27 countries will never be easy. But front and centre of our mind is Britain’s economic and national security. Let me give you one example: improving Europe’s competitiveness is a key plank of our reforms, and I can see what it would mean for our farmers and food producers.

It would make Europe more flexible, outward-looking and dynamic, and we could see faster progress on a China Free Trade agreement. That will mean our dairy producers no longer paying 15 percent tariffs. And it could make a real difference to companies like Cranswick in Yorkshire, who employ 5,000 people and have contributed to the doubling of our food trade with China over the past five years.

Productivity and competitiveness

I am proud that our food is produced to world-leading standards of quality, safety, traceability and animal welfare. To make the most of this talent and quality, we need to work with farmers to raise our productivity and close the gap with some of our leading competitors.

That means supporting businesses to increase investment, improve skills across the sector, grasp innovation opportunities and make the most of one of our most precious assets, the Great British Brand. 2016 will be the Year of GREAT British Food, opening a long-term campaign. We are going to have a calendar of trade missions and events in the UK that showcase businesses big and small.

The new Great British Food Unit, which we promised in our manifesto, started work this week, bringing practical help and expertise, particularly for producers breaking into new markets. We have already made improvements, bringing in a 24-hour turnaround time for export health certificates.

In addition, the government is putting £80 million into centres for livestock, crop health, precision engineering and data. We are developing the Food Innovation Network, announced by the Prime Minister last summer, to make sure ambitious entrepreneurs are linked up to the latest scientific knowledge. And we will be raising skill levels across the workforce by trebling the number of apprentices in food and farming.

Animal disease

We are also improving our resilience to animal disease by investing around £65 million in new capital. This will bring us state-of-the-art laboratories and fund the upgrade of our bio-containment facilities at Weybridge, securing our ability to fight diseases like swine fever and avian flu.

I am absolutely committed to eradicate TB. We are making good progress against what is the gravest animal disease threat facing Britain, with half of England due to be declared TB-free by 2020.

Conclusion

We have a long-term plan to improve competitiveness and build Britain’s resilience. The global challenges we face bring huge opportunities for new prosperity, jobs, environmental progress and global leadership. Together we can make sure our food producers will take the lead in feeding the world. Thank you

To read the complete speech or watch the video of Elizabeth Truss’ speech go to www.gov.uk/government/speeches