DESPITE the extreme weather conditions Yorkshire has been experiencing this week, our farmers are continuing to deliver in extraordinary circumstances to keep British farming moving.
They are a resilient bunch and are working around the clock to look after the welfare of their animals. You will also find farmers helping to ensure roads are clear so feed deliveries can make it onto farms and, in many cases, bringing animals inside to protect them against the elements.
British farming is in the spotlight like never before. So what better time to champion great British food and the thousands of farmers and growers who produce it every day of the year?
I am immensely proud to be leading the NFU into a new era as part of an industry which is so important to our country. I know I take the helm at a time of enormous significance, at a time of economic and political uncertainty, which will be felt in our fields and on our farms more keenly than any other industry.
While farmers in Yorkshire and up and down the land know how much we have evolved as a sector, one of my first jobs will be to reconnect what we do as farmers with the British public, to demonstrate how far we have come and to showcase what we deliver to Britain. As a beef producer myself, I am particularly passionate about promoting what we do to the public and encouraging them to back British farming.
We’re incredibly lucky that Yorkshire has such a rich, vast and varied farmed landscape, which means we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to locally produced food.
Whether it’s tasty traditional roast beef to go with Yorkshire puddings, Wensleydale Cheese, forced rhubarb from the famous Rhubarb Triangle near Wakefield, or malting barley that’s sent to support the Scotch whisky industry, this great county is delivering some of the highest quality food in the world.
Currently, British farms produce over 60 per cent of all the food eaten in the UK, down from over 80 per cent just three decades ago, so we know that this can increase.
We also know the public expects high welfare, traceable, quality and affordable food. We want to keep delivering on those things. We see them as a public good – as important as anything that society can provide.
But we must do more to demonstrate to the public how our standards are delivering for Britain, and how we are prepared to adapt to its needs in the future.
Now is the moment to move forward. We are seeing the advent of new technology. As farmers, we are adopting artificial intelligence driven technology, using drones and capitalising on space technology and satellites to steer driverless tractors.
We want to see improvements in livestock data to improve returns, and we’re pushing the Government across departments to ensure that our sector plays a key role in the new Industrial Strategy.
Most of all we are seeing the march of Brexit – the most defining issue our industry has faced in generations. But with Brexit and the negotiation of trade deals comes a huge opportunity to ensure British food and farming is the envy of the world. It provides us with a real opportunity to deliver more to Britain and to demonstrate the offer and the contribution we make – to the economy and to the health of the British people.
Food and farming provides 3.8 million jobs and is the bedrock of the largest manufacturing sector, food and drink, which contributes £112bn to the country’s economy.
But to ensure our industry is envied the world over, we need the Government to help put us on the global map when it comes to farming. We need Ministers to listen, allow us to be involved in Brexit trade negotiations, and for farming to be the first to take its place in this new buyers’ market.
However, we must not turn our back on the EU market, it remains crucial for British farmers, with 40 per cent of our lamb, 80 per cent of our dairy exports and 75 per cent of our wheat and barley exports currently going into Europe. It is vital we have zero-tariff, frictionless trade with the EU marketplace.
Just as they have promoted British industry and defence interests abroad, our Ministers now need to stand shoulder to shoulder with farmers and push British agricultural goods. I am determined to seize this moment of opportunity to ensure Britain’s food industry capitalises on the opportunities and deals with the challenges. We can be stronger than we have ever been.
At last year’s Great Yorkshire Show, the NFU North East region launched Pride & Provenance – an ambitious campaign to promote the strength and value of the agri-food sector in Yorkshire – and backed by 90 companies that collectively generate more than £2.6bn in turnover and employ 24,000 people, and counting.
It is designed to make sure that MPs, policymakers and the public understand how important our industry is, what we already contribute and how much more we could do if we get the Brexit process right.
Good quality, safe and traceable food is a public right and we believe it is a public good for generations to come. Farmers here in Yorkshire and across Britain have world leading standards in food production, animal welfare and environmental stewardship and we are committed to delivering those standards now and in the future, in the face of unprecedented change for the industry.
In order to keep delivering for Britain, farm businesses from Rotherham to Richmond and from Scarborough to Skipton need to be productive, profitable and resilient to volatility. This must be at the forefront of Government policy if we are to have a farming sector that feeds us, cares for our countryside and delivers economic benefits.
If we seize this moment, I know that the future for British farmers – and therefore the British people – will be a bright one.
Minette Batters is the new president of the National Farmers Union. She runs a diversified farming business and co-founded the campaigning initiatives ‘Ladies in Beef’ and the ‘Great British Beef Week’.