Britain has the land, technology and entrepreneurial flair to lead the world in food and farming, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference this week, the MP said the £100 billion industry was at the core of the government’s long-term economic plan, which includes promoting British exports, cutting red tape and better protecting the country from animal and plant disease to make “a real, practical difference to farmers’ working lives”.
Farming groups have long called for agriculture to be much higher up the political agenda with early electioneering in the run up to May’s General Election already focussed on a raft of other concerns such as devolution, elected mayors and the NHS.
To demonstrate the current government’s commitment to agriculture, Mrs Truss, who grew up in Leeds, used her address to delegates at the industry conference in Oxford to detail the actions being that were being taken to ensure a flourishing future for British food and farming.
“Farming is a high-tech powerhouse at the heart of our long-term economic plan, vital to our country’s future security,” she said.
“We have the entrepreneurs and go-ahead farmers to ensure this, taking pride in our heritage to forge a future based on innovation, technology and the quality of our great British food.
“Over recent months we have seen fresh evidence of why we are right to be both ambitious and optimistic for the industry this year and in the future. Sales of English and Welsh wine are on course to break the £100 million barrier this year. Beer exports are also breaking records, with more than a billion pints of beer sold abroad for the first time.
“No ambition is too high for British food and farming.”
Since 2010, the government has signed deals to open 600 food markets abroad, while British food and drink exports have increased by seven per cent in the same period, reaching £19bn, she said.
The Bonfield Report has made it easier for public sector schools, hospitals and canteens to buy high-quality local food, she said, and from April, it will be easier for shoppers to know the origin of their food, when packaged meat will have to carry a label showing the country where it was reared and slaughtered.
It is unlikely that dairy farmers, for one, will share Mrs Truss’ optimism, with the average farm gate price for a litre of milk expected to have ended 2014 at around, if not below, 28 pence per litre.
Industry forecasters have predicted some price relief in the sector later in the year.
This week, Action with Communities in Rural England published its manifesto for the next government, pointing to issues it wants politicians to address to improve wealth, health and access in rural communities.
Priorities included investment in alternative broadband solutions for areas not covered by the national superfast broadband rollout and a fair share for rural areas of funding available to Local Enterprise Partnerships.
Douglas Chalmers, northern director of policy and public affairs at the Country Land and Business Association, said: “Rural Yorkshire has huge potential to contribute towards a stronger economy, but it must be supported by a Government that recognises growth is not restricted to urban areas.”