Minette Batters says British farmers must be suppliers of choice

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers' Union. Picture by Tim Scrivener.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers' Union. Picture by Tim Scrivener.
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British farmers and growers should remain the “number one supplier of choice” to UK consumers after Brexit, farming leaders have urged.

The National Farmers’ Union wants to see a new farming policy after the UK leaves the European Union that allows consumers to enjoy more sustainable, quality and affordable British food, whatever their income.

This should be led by new rules for British procurement, the union’s president Minette Batters said, meaning schools, hospitals, hotels and restaurants should all source British assured ingredients wherever possible.

The farming group, which represents 55,000 farmers in England and Wales, has outlined its vision for what the future should look like when the UK leaves the EU-wide Common Agricultural Policy after a series of meetings with its members.

A domestic replacement for the EU policy which sees farmers paid subsidies has been the centre of a government consultation which closes today.

Read more: New farm policy must fit with Whitehall resources, warns NFU leader Minette Batters

The Government has protected subsidy payments for a two-year tranisitional period after Brexit but its Command Paper on which farmers have been consulted acknowledges calls for taxpayers’ money to be spent only on public goods such as protecting landscapes and wildlife and preventing flooding, rather than the current system of payments for owning land.

Read more: ‘Brexit has put a brake on business,’ says Yorkshire veg grower Guy Poskitt

Although the NFU supports payment reforms it insists that continued financial support is necessary to enable farmers to be productive and deliver and maintain environmental enhancements in a prevailing climate of low market returns.

The NFU says food production must be recognised as being in the national interest and that the public already benefits from a sufficient degree of self sufficiency, safe and traceable domestic food supplies, agricultural jobs and investment and high standards of welfare and environmental protection that must not be eroded by cheaper food imports made to different standards.

Yet the NFU is concerned that the Government’s proposals are at times contradictory with a tension between its international trading objectives and its demands of its domestic industry.

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Ms Batters said farmers are ready for change but it must be fair and equitable industry wide.

She said: “We are now on the cusp of a pivotal moment, as we leave the Common Agricultural Policy and once again take sovereign control of our agricultural affairs. I am clear on what success will look like. I want British farmers and growers to remain the number one supplier of choice to the UK market, and I want British people to be able to enjoy more sustainable, quality, affordable British food at a range of different prices that suit all incomes.

“A future farm policy could uplift British farming’s ability to produce food for the nation, giving us greater security in the supply of safe, traceable and quality British food that the public trust.”

LIST OF ASKS FOR NEW POLICY

The NFU champions the continuation of support payments in the short term but says that longer term, “market based tools” should be developed to smooth the impact of market forces on farm incomes.

The Government can do more to mitigate the impact of market failure situations, it says, ensuring minimum contract terms for example.

A seasonal workers scheme is needed to recruit non-EU seasonal labour due to the fall in EU nationals taking such roles, the NFU says, and that more public investment is needed in research and development to ensure farming businesses become more productive.