A credible case for government to prioritise agriculture must be drawn up, according to a senior farming union official, who urged farmers to engage with the job of shaping the industry’s future.
Minette Batters, the deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union said the decision of Britain to leave the European Union presents an opportunity for the industry, but it is up to farmers to fight for the best deal in any new British agricultural policy.
Mrs Batters, who farms in Wiltshire, attended Driffield Show in East Yorkshire this week where she said her conversations with farmers were dominated by the ‘Brexit’ referendum outcome.
The Government has until the country formally withdraws from the EU - a process which could take another two years or more - to devise a policy for British agriculture to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
What that policy will be is currently uncertain, not least with a ministerial reshuffle within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs following the appointment of Theresa May as prime minister.
Amid that backdrop at Driffield Show on Wednesday, Mrs Batters told Country Week that it was important that farmers came together as one to set the tone for policy makers’ discussions.
“We have to get the narrative right on this and we have to change to some extent,” she said.
“Farmers are very good at talking to each other but it is incredibly important to make the case to consumers as to why we need a productive, resilient agricultural sector.
“It’s a really good time to set out what we want for British food and farming and what we want for consumers. They want to be able to buy healthy, nutritious British food but we need to engage with that and we need to get the Government bought into that.”
She added: “We would say that with breaking our link with Europe, the Government needs completely restructuring to prioritise food and farming in Britain.
“With the Brexit vote that umbilical cord (support for farming through CAP) has been severed. We are now an island nation and we have to have credible food policy with full integrity, not just for us but for society as a whole.”
The NFU will officially launch its consultation with members about what the British agricultural policy should be next month and Mrs Batters said she wants younger generations to play a major role in those discussions.
“We want to open doors to young people who are non-members to jump in and join the conversation. We want them to help shape a sustainable, resilient agricultural sector for their futures.”
She said she was looking forward to working with new Defra minister Andrea Leadsom who has replaced Elizabeth Truss, adding that farmers should take encouragement from what the Prime Minister has said about having a government for ‘one nation’.
“I think that sends out a strong message to the farming community, which although has a smaller voice, this government is here to work with you rather than just the privileged few.”
EUSTICE TO ADDRESS FARMERS
Sheep farmers will hear from ‘Brexit’ campaigner, George Eustice, when the Farming Minister officially opens the NSA Sheep Event in Worcestershire this week.
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said: “We look forward to starting our post-Brexit discussions with Mr Eustice at NSA Sheep 2016 and hearing his comments on what the UK-equivalent of the EU Common Agricultural Policy might look like in the future.”
In the latest change at Defra, Suffolk MP Thérèse Coffey has replaced Rory Stewart as Parliamentary Under Secretary.