Environment Secretary Michael Gove promised a bright future for British farming on his first visit to the Great Yorkshire Show, as he pledged that the Government would more effectively market, sell and secure new support for British food in the years ahead.
Mr Gove, who was installed as Andrea Leadsom’s replacement in the role at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) after last month’s General Election, joined farmers for breakfast and held talks with landowners on day two of the country’s premier agricultural show.
He also took in some of the delights of the food hall, where he bought a number of Yorkshire products, including Masons gin, Heck sausages and Shepherd’s Purse cheese.
He told The Yorkshire Post, he was “hugely impressed” by his visit to the show.
“There are a huge array of people who are here, children who have come for educational reasons, fantastic local Yorkshire businesses that reflect the diversity of food and drink manufacturers and companies here, and I had the chance to talk to some of the farmers and landowners and get their impression on how my department can better help them to protect and enhance the environment.”
Asked how both he and Defra can help farmers, the Cabinet Minister said: “I think the first thing is we can make sure that farmers have an opportunity to access new markets. I had the chance to talk to representatives of the NFU (National Farmers’ Union) over breakfast this morning, we discussed some of ways we can use the reputation for quality that British produce has and Yorkshire produce particularly has to make sure the markets, from China to Europe, that we have an opportunity to sell more into and access better, and that’s partly a marketing exercise but it’s also partly government opening doors, acting as a champion and ensuring that people here, that British farming and British produce has a level of quality, that we have guarantees on animal welfare and that are produced to the highest environmental standards.”
Mr Gove said Britain’s “world leading products” should be sold worldwide as he addressed two key Brexit issues for farmers: the future of trade and the availability of labour.
“I’m confident that we can get not just a good trade deal with the European Union but also new trade deals with other countries, from Asia to North America, which will provide an outlet for the amazing, high quality produce that we have here,” Mr Gove said.
“I think it’s also the case that we can get a good deal that allows EU nationals who are currently working here to stay here and to contribute in the way that they have done so valuably, from vets to those working in food processing.
“We rely on people who have come from the EU, they are very valued citizens, we want them to stay. It’s also the case that in areas like soft fruit and growing that there are seasonal workers that come here, I want to make sure that we have got the right arrangements for the future in order to make sure businesses continue to flourish and grow.”
Defra’s new incumbent also gave the impression that government action on clear food labelling and an improved policy on public procurement of British food and drink will be addressed as Britain extricates itself from the tangle of EU rules and regulations, as he promised to capitalise on the country’s high standards of food production.
“At the moment we cannot market British food as effectively as we want to because we can’t say on the labelling ‘100 per cent British, you can guarantee that this has been grown or reared here’. EU rules don’t allow us to market food in the way that we want.
“Outside the EU we can more effectively market, sell and secure new support for British food, and when it comes to procurement everything from school meals to government contracts to other relationships we have with British producers, can be orientated to ensuring it is British produce first.
“Whatever happens to the Brexit negotiations we will have the freedom to be outside of EU procurement rules and that means we can have a policy which ensures that British agriculture is better supported than ever before.”
Ahead of the show, organisers at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society called for greater clarity on whether schools could release pupils to attend the show, and reap its educational benefits during term-time following stricter rules on authorised absence ushered in under Mr Gove’s tenure as Education Secretary.