In her final New Year address as NFU president, Minette Batters has urged the Government to make food security a priority.
Mrs Batters, who will stand down from the role at February’s NFU conference, reflected on the ‘unprecedented challenges’ the farming community has faced over the past 12 months.
“Soaring production costs, global turmoil from the Ukraine war, extreme weather and significant delays to the future of farm payments have all put the resilience of British farmers at risk,” she said.
“Yet, amid these adversities, it’s important not to overlook the incredible successes we’ve seen this year, from the unwavering support of the British public to crucial government policy wins.”
She hailed the ‘landmark achievement’ of the first ever Farm to Fork Summit held at Number 10 this summer – a culmination of over a year’s worth of work and campaigning by the NFU. This event secured government commitments to support British farming and protect our domestic food security and concluded with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s recognition that food security should be taken seriously by the government.
“Two key causes for celebration this year are both the Precision Breeding Bill and Equipment Theft Bill receiving Royal Assent, granting farmers greater access to precision breeding tools for their crops and livestock and the government greater powers against equipment theft.
“We campaigned hard on both issues and these bills are important steps forward to help farmers improve their climate-friendly food production and keep their businesses safer from criminals.”
“Over 27,000 members of the public rallied behind our campaign with Dr Luke Evans MP to get supermarkets to support British farmers and growers by adding a Buy British Button to their websites, culminating with Morrisons becoming the first supermarket to do so (more here).”
She added that it was heartening to see the public’s recognition and appreciation for the vital work farmers do 365 days of the year to produce climate friendly food, care for livestock, and protect and enhance the environment we all know and love.
Recent NFU research demonstrates that 82% of the public are in favour of the government setting food security targets, while 84% think food production targets are either as important or more important than the environmental targets we have current legislation for.
“I cannot thank the public enough for their support; it has been crucial during the turbulence of the past few years,” Mrs Batters added.
She highlighted how the NFU has made ‘great strides’ this year to reach out to the younger generation, including TikTok account that has reached over 1.4 million people, and ground-breaking educational initiatives, which have reached schools nationwide.
“Encouraging the younger generation and making agriculture relevant and interesting is such an important job. Every single one of us is impacted by food and farming, and it’s vital that all children, wherever they are in the country, get the opportunity to understand how their food is produced,” Mrs Batters said.
“All of this said, I am extremely mindful that, as we close 2023 and welcome in a new year, there is still much to do. Despite the progress made, the government is still a long way behind on its commitments.
“As a matter of urgency, our national food security must now be embedded into the Sustainable Farming Initiative. With 50% of Basic Payment Scheme payments capped, the tapering of payments to 2027 is very concerning for farmers.
“Urgent action is needed if we are to get the uptake needed to deliver Defra’s own legislated environmental ambitions. The NFU has always maintained that food production and delivering more for nature and the environment must be treated as two sides of the same coin.
“While it was brilliant to see Defra’s commitment to building sustainable energy supplies with the recent announcement that horticulture businesses will have access to the Industrial Energy Transformation (IETF) Fund to help cut energy bills, we still seek clarity on support for other energy intensive sectors such as poultry.
“Our ambitions are clear. Food security must be a top priority for any government and investing in our farming and growing sector is essential for productivity, job creation, and economic and environmental delivery. British farmers and growers provide the raw ingredients for the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, British food and drink is worth more than £128 billion to the national economy.
“This new year, let’s build on the momentum of the public’s unwavering support and forge a path towards a resilient and thriving British agricultural sector so we can continue what we do best – producing great British food.”