NFU president Minette Batters has called on the Government to ‘get serious’ about British food and deliver policies that address many of the concerns farmers face going into 2022.
These include the crippling labour shortages, fears over future trade policy and the rolling of a new domestic agriculture policy.
In her New Year message, Mrs Batters described 2021 as an ‘extraordinary year’. “The past 12 months have thrown everything at us, from a growing labour crisis to soaring input costs, all amidst the ongoing pandemic,” she said.
“But we have also seen incredible levels of public support for domestic food. As the people who produce that food, we continue to be recognised as key workers – people who are helping to keep the country fed and watered throughout a really challenging time. We remain extremely grateful to everyone who has backed British farming and British food this year.
“Every single one of us is proud to produce some of the best food in the world, and with the right policy framework we know we can deliver so much more.
“We can drive the rural economy, enhance our natural environment, contribute to national net zero targets and care for our cherished countryside so it can be enjoyed by everyone, all while producing more home-grown, local food for shop shelves.”
She stressed that the next 12 months could lay the foundations for a thriving food and farming sector where we are competitive both at home and abroad – and called on the Government to create an environment to make that happen.
“If ministers create an agriculture policy which has a resilient food supply chain at its heart, we have the potential to not only be the number one supplier of choice for UK households, but a firm favourite for markets around the world too,” she said.
“If British farming is to succeed, we need both our domestic agriculture policy and our trade policy to support our shared objectives of feeding the nation and exporting great British food overseas. As farmers we stand ready to be part of Global Britain, but we will face a continued competitive disadvantage if we see more trade deals like the one with Australia in the coming months.”
Mrs Batters said the farming industry was committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and contributing to the government’s national net zero targets.
“With support through policies like the Environmental Land Management scheme, we can boost climate action on farms and increase biodiversity – all while increasing our production of quality, sustainable and affordable food,” she said.
Crippling labour shortages
She highlighted the need to address the labour shortages that have caused so much damage on pig farms over the past six months.
“This future all depends on farm businesses being profitable and resilient. The extension of the Seasonal Worker visa route provides some certainty for growers of both edible and ornamental crops. But there are still crippling labour shortages and structural issues throughout the food supply chain that I want to continue working with the government to address.
“We cannot ignore the challenges of this year or we will miss the opportunities of the next one. The government needs to continue to take action to prevent a situation where British food is replaced by food imports – imports which could fall way below our own highly valued standards of animal welfare and environmental protection.
“2021 was an extraordinary year. I want 2022 to be extraordinary but for different reasons. Let it be the year the government gets serious about British food and delivers policies that enable British food and farming to thrive.”