Shadow Minister warns Brexit must drive up food production

Any new domestic agricultural policy must help to drive up Britain's food productivity if the nation's farmers are to compete in post-Brexit markets, Shadow Environment Secretary, Sue Hayman, has warned.

Sue Hayman MP, Shadow Secretary for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Picture by Victoria Jones/PA Wire.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post on the eve of her appearance at the Northern Farming Conference in Hexham today, the Cumbrian MP said farming should be prepared for the possibility of both import and export tariffs being imposed when Britain leaves the European Union, but in order for the industry to flourish in a more competitive international trading environment, farms need the right support to drive up productivity.

If only homegrown food was consumed in the UK, the national larder would run dry in August, an analysis by the National Farmers’ Union shows.

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A crucial element to providing better support for farms and their abililty to invest in improving productivity is to reward them for the “public good” of maintaining “iconic” landscapes, a calculation which could be linked to tourism, Mrs Hayman said.

A stronger British food labelling regime should also play a part too, she said, by better empowering shoppers to buy homegrown produce.

Mrs Hayman said: “Being an MP with a National Park in part of my constituency, I’m keen to ensure smaller upland farmers get properly rewarded for maintaining that iconic landscape and keen to see how we can join up what we give farmers alongside the tourism industry.

“To me ‘public good’ should include maintaining our landscapes as well as how much food is produced and what farmers are rewarded for such as tree planting.”

The Shadow Minister went on to say: “We (the Labour Party) have been looking at how to improve productivity and how the gap between between us and other countries is growing which is not what we need.

“Improved productivity is good for farming in this country and I know people want to buy British.

“I think if we look at productivity we need to look at labelling too. We are going to be in a much more competitive situation with the rest of the world and I think we are in danger of having tariffs both for imports and exports, so we need to support our farms more in this country.”

To protect farm incomes, she said it was important that support payments, currently provided as part of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in two ways: through direct payments linked to farm size and via targeted payments in lieu of specific environmental improvements, remain during any transitional period between CAP and domestic rules.

“I think we certainly need to have it going forward for the transitional period,” she said. “Large farms have become overly dependent on it and in some areas as much as 80 per cent of their income comes from it. I don’t see that as being sustainable... but it is important not to pull the rug out from any sector of farming.”

Berkshire-born Mrs Hayman was first elected as an MP for Workington in 2015, becoming the first female MP to represent a constituency in Cumbria.

Having succeeded York Central MP Rachael Maskell as Shadow Secretary in February, she said the role still felt “quite new”, not least with the enforced break to defend her seat in the General Election, but that she “loves it”.