This week I came across a two minute video clip of Tom Vilsack - former United States Secretary of Agriculture. In it he argues that: “Every one of us that is not a farmer is not a farmer because we have farmers. We have delegated the responsibility of feeding our families to a relatively small percentage of this country – less than one tenth of one per cent of the population produces 85 per cent of our food.
“This allows the other 99 per cent of us to do whatever we want to do with our lives because we don’t have to worry about growing our own food – we get it from the grocery store. That is an incredible freedom that we take for granted – and it’s not true in many countries in the world. Then, when we go to the grocery store, we walk out with more money in our pockets as a percentage of our pay cheque than anybody else in the world.”
These words brought a round of applause from the people listening. For me, apart from the fact that the same argument applies equally in the UK, what struck me was how eloquently he made the point, how powerful it was and how important it is going to be to have people prepared to speak as passionately about our British food and farming businesses when we are sitting around the negotiating table.
I think it’s safe to say that as an industry we are fired up to make the very best of every opportunity afforded to us. We want to provide people at home with a fantastic array of quality, affordable food and drink while exploring trade opportunities further afield. But for this to work, we need the government to really understand the role of farmers and growers, not just as food and drink producers and custodians of the countryside, but as the bedrock to the country’s largest manufacturing sector. A recent report commissioned by the NFU suggests that for every pound invested in the agricultural sector, we deliver £7.40 back to the economy.
In Yorkshire, food and drink is big business, as is tourism and farming underpins both sectors. It was good to see this recognised recently when a delegation of farmers headed to the centre of Leeds to meet with the new team from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The aim was to make sure food and farming is at the heart of the government’s consultation around the development of a new Industrial Strategy for the UK. This is a ‘cornerstone’ of government policy as we head towards a new future outside the EU aiming to increase productivity and drive growth across the whole of the UK covering everything from investment in science, research and innovation to skill development, better procurement and affordable energy.
It was great to see farmers and growers joining the conversation alongside some of the region’s leading food and drink companies – serving to highlight the size, scope and importance of the wider supply chain. It was equally great to hear that ministers value the contribution farmers make to the economy, environment and society but to get our own ‘Tom Vilsack’ at the negotiating table we must continue to press home these messages at every opportunity.
Adam Bedford is the regional director for the National Farmers’ Union in Yorkshire and the North East.