The UK government’s new 25-year plan for food and farming will detail how it plans to attract even more skilled people to the industry, build the British brand and increase exports, according a preview of the soon-to-be published document given to the NFU annual conference today by Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss.
Despite starting her presentation with an acknowledgement that British farmers have faced a tough year, including pork prices being at their lowest for eight years, the Secretary of State was resolutely upbeat in her rallying call to the industry.
“Despite the fact prices are low, every week I meet people full of new ideas for taking forward this great industry, and with ideas for managing the volatile world we face,” she said, adding that there were “very good reasons” to have confidence in a positive future for British farming.
In relation to science and innovation, for example, she said that over the next five years, Defra would be doubling its investment in science to £130 million. That was in addition to investing another £80m across government to develop research centres for livestock, crop health, data and precision engineering.
“There is also a new generation excited about farming,” she continued. “It is the fastest-growing subject at university, with a 4.6% increase in student numbers last year. There are now more than 19,000 people studying agriculture and related subjects.”
Her own efforts in relation to new export opportunities also got a mention.
“The market-access deals I signed in China in 2015 will bring our farmers around £40m a year of potential sales for barley and pig’s trotters,” she said, before also claiming progress on the domestic market.
“AHDB is now able to celebrate the British provenance of our food in its campaigns and will be running promotions for home-produced meat over the coming months, supporting the 2016 Year of Great British Food.”
AHDB’s work in helping farmers “smooth out volatility” was also highlighted, alongside a commitment that her department was cooperating closely with the Board’s volatility forum, in partnership with farming, processors and the finance sector.
There was even time to deliver a message on the importance to farmers of the UK staying within the EU.
“By voting to remain we can work within a reformed EU to reduce bureaucracy and secure further reform while still enjoying the significant benefits of the single market which gives us access to 500 million consumers,” Ms Truss (pictured above) told NFU delegates. “Food and farming is our largest manufacturing industry employing 3.8 million people, with 60% of our food and farming exports being to the EU, bringing in £11bn.”