The government must get serious about the food and farming sectors after an unprecedented year. That is the message from NFU president Minette Batters, in her new year address looking ahead to 2023.
Batters recently met with Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, and said it was important the government developed policies that supported domestic food production.
“Nobody could have predicted what we’ve witnessed in the past 12 months,” said Batters. “From the war in Ukraine, which has created global turmoil and significantly disrupted food and energy supply chains, to our own political upheavals. On top of that we’ve had soaring input costs and the effects of climate change demonstrated by this year’s drought; the challenges faced by us all have been unprecedented.
“Clearly, events over the last year have made the job of producing food throughout the world so much harder. The importance of British farming to deliver food and energy has never been clearer. I never take for granted the huge public support farming receives and it is clear the nation continues to value our high food standards, produced to world-leading animal welfare and environmental protection, as well as our ability to produce renewable energy and contribute to the nation’s energy security.
“While it has been a challenging year, there have been a number of successes as a result of our campaigning over the past 12 months. We have seen an increase in the number of seasonal workers’ visas which will be a relief to farmers and growers employing the skilled workforce needed to produce fruit, vegetables and ornamentals next year. We have secured funding from government to level up rural communities through the Rural England Prosperity Fund, in addition to successfully recruiting eight new agri-food attachés overseas who will help drive exports of British food abroad. I was very pleased to be able to end the year with a meeting with the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, where I pressed, again, the importance of food security and home-grown food production. In the summer he made a commitment to monitor food self-sufficiency and I am reassured that he continues to take this issue very seriously.
“Looking to the year ahead, we have the opportunity to build on these successes and deliver more for the country. We have the ambition and drive to produce more renewable energy, enhance our environment, care for our countryside and work towards our commitment to reach net zero by 2040, all while producing sustainable food.
“To do this we need to ensure that we build profitability and resilience into our farm businesses to allow us to safeguard the nation’s food and energy security. It is vital that the government delivers the policies and investment needed to unlock a thriving food and farming sector.
“It was clear from my meeting with the prime minister that he has the same ambition as us for British food and farming. If we are to continue delivering for the nation, we need to see him honour his pledge made at the NFU Hustings event in August – to support British farming by setting a target for the nation’s food security, with a statutory duty to report on domestic food levels. And we need clarity on policies like the Environmental Land Management schemes, which will ensure we are able to plan financial resilience into our businesses and continue to produce climate-friendly food alongside green energy.
“2022 has been an extraordinary year. I am hopeful that 2023 will be the year that the government gets serious about British food and farming and that the government delivers the policies and support needed for us to thrive domestically and in markets around the world. The NFU will be focusing on these areas to build resilience and profitability back to British farming no matter what the next year brings.”