The Government must use the coming year to introduce policies to ensure the British food industry can thrive, Minette Batters has said in a new year message.
The NFU president said the past year had been extraordinarily challenging, but there were opportunities that could be seized in the months ahead.
“We have marked the end of an extraordinary year. The past 12 months have thrown everything at us, from a growing labour crisis to soaring input costs, all amidst the ongoing pandemic.
“But we have also seen incredible levels of public support for domestic food. As the people who produce that food, we continue to be recognised as key workers – people who are helping to keep the country fed and watered throughout a really challenging time. We remain extremely grateful to everyone who has backed British farming and British food this year.
“Every single one of us is proud to produce some of the best food in the world, and with the right policy framework we know we can deliver so much more. We can drive the rural economy, enhance our natural environment, contribute to national net zero targets and care for our cherished countryside so it can be enjoyed by everyone, all while producing more home-grown, local food for shop shelves.
“The next 12 months could lay the foundations for a thriving food and farming sector where we are competitive both at home and abroad. If ministers create an agriculture policy which has a resilient food supply chain at its heart, we have the potential to not only be the number one supplier of choice for UK households, but a firm favourite for markets around the world too.
“If British farming is to succeed, we need both our domestic agriculture policy and our trade policy to support our shared objectives of feeding the nation and exporting great British food overseas. As farmers we stand ready to be part of Global Britain, but we will face a continued competitive disadvantage if we see more trade deals like the one with Australia in the coming months.
“To tackle the global threat of climate change, we are committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and contributing to the government’s national net zero targets. With support through policies like the Environmental Land Management scheme, we can boost climate action on farms and increase biodiversity – all while increasing our production of quality, sustainable and affordable food.
“This future all depends on farm businesses being profitable and resilient. The extension of the Seasonal Worker visa route provides some certainty for growers of both edible and ornamental crops, who will be extremely relieved to have clarity over the future of the scheme for the next three years. But there are still crippling labour shortages and structural issues throughout the food supply chain that I want to continue working with the government to address.
“We cannot ignore the challenges of this year or we will miss the opportunities of the next one. The government needs to continue to take action to prevent a situation where British food is replaced by food imports – imports which could fall way below our own highly valued standards of animal welfare and environmental protection.
“2021 was an extraordinary year. I want 2022 to be extraordinary but for different reasons. Let it be the year the government gets serious about British food and delivers policies that enable British food and farming to thrive.”