British agriculture is entering a critical time, with farmers facing an increasingly challenging environment for food production says National Farmers Union (NFU) president Meurig Raymond.
Stating his industry priorities for 2016, Mr Raymond said that safeguarding farm businesses from the “destructive effects of volatility” will be essential in the year ahead, particularly after the past 12 months of severe farming challenge, which had knocked the confidence of many farmers.
In looking further forward than just 2016, however, he reminded producers that the UK is going to be the “most populous country in the EU” by the mid-2040s, with many more mouths to feed than we have today.
“In that context, we need action from government, in the EU and domestically, and all parts of the supply chain to enable a competitive, productive and profitable farming industry to supply this country with a safe, secure, affordable supply of British food,” he said, adding that the NFU, for its part, would be “bold and ambitious” in its approach to the furture.
Mr Raymond, pictured above during last year’s protests in Brussels, also listed several few key industry and government action points, which will require early attention in 2016.
“BPS payments and Countryside Stewardship will continue to be high on the list for us,” he said. “I know how crucial these payments are to farmers and the difficulties delays bring. Lobbying Defra, Natural England and the RPA for improvements in delivery, guidance, IT and scheme administration so that they are fit for purpose is a major priority for the NFU. Similarly, the work with the likes of HMRC and the banks will continue in earnest in our efforts to alleviate financial pressures while there are delays.
“We will also continue to lobby Government to allow our farmers and growers more time to implement the National Living Wage, which comes into force in April 2016. I urge Defra to scrap the Employers’ National Insurance contributions for seasonal workers where labour costs can be as high as 60% of turnover.”
He also highlighted the union’s determination to play a full part in the EU referendum debate.
“This is set to gather momentum this year, potentially impacting many industries, and farming is no exception,” he said. “We know the EU’s influence on farming is huge. And, in the absence of answers to many of our questions, the NFU is committed to providing more information on the financial impact of being in or out of Europe. It’s vital we know the facts before casting the vote that could completely change the way our industry works.”