NFU Conference 2024: “imbalance between environment and food production in policy”

NFU Conference 2024: “imbalance between environment and food production in policy”

In her opening address at National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Conference, president Minette Batters highlighted the need for all political parties to commit to giving food security the same strategic priority as energy security.

NFU president Minette Batters: “I ask today, which political party will have the right plan for British food?”

As part of her address, Batters highlighted the solutions put forward in the NFU’s General Election manifesto and argued that sustainable food production be given the same ambition as legislated environmental targets.

Over the past few years, farmers and growers have had to shoulder “unsustainably high” production costs, flooding and crop losses and uncertainty due to changing agricultural and trade policy, which have all contributed to frustration in farming communities.

The NFU will be addressing these issues directly with political leaders and policymakers at its annual conference in Birmingham, which runs from 20-21st February.

Speaking to more than 1,500 farming, political and stakeholder delegates, Mrs Batters said: “This election will be critical to the future of farming and the food on our supermarket shelves, in our pubs, hotels, bars and restaurants.

“There is a reason why countries invest in food production. It is to mitigate risk and volatility for consumers and give farmers the confidence to keep producing food. But global events have challenged British agriculture, adding to the instability and volatility farmers and growers are facing, when what they really need is certainty.

“That’s why I ask today, which political party will have the right plan for British food?

“Which party will deliver the core standards that ensure food imports meet the same high values of animal welfare and environmental protection as those which British farmers are expected to meet?

“Which party will be the first to set a target for food production with a statutory underpinning? Because there is currently an imbalance between environment and food production in Government policy. We must see changes this year to redress this before many more farms just simply disappear.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addressed delegates at the NFU Conference. | Picture: NFU

Prime Minister promises “every penny” of £2.4bn to be spent on sector

PM Rishi Sunak was also in attendance at this year’s NFU Conference. As part of his address, Sunak acknowledged the NFU’s demands for food security by announcing new funding allocations.

He said: “Food security is a vital part of our national security… as farming changes, how we work with you in Government must change too.

“We promised that across this parliament, every penny of the £2.4 billion annual farming budget would be spent on you. And we will absolutely meet that promise.”

Sunak went on to detail how the Government would be doubling Management Payments for SFI, with recipients gaining up to an extra £1,000 this spring. He also said that in a new package of measures, a grant offer totalling £427 million would be shared among farmers in the coming year, while the Farm-to-Fork Summit would be held annually.

A new annual Food Security Index was also announced, which Sunak said he expected to be “UK-wide”.

Extreme weather remains a key issue

As part of her speech, Batters added: “When the NFU of England and Wales said we can beat the Government target on lowering emissions, it was by driving climate-smart agriculture policies and incentivising lower emissions, optimisation, innovation and precision farming. Focusing on producing more food with less impact.

“Yet the Welsh Government impact assessment for the Sustainable Farming Scheme predicts 122,200 fewer livestock, 5,500 job losses and £199 million loss to farm incomes. That is a red line and we will never support it. We will sit at the same table and find a solution.  

“Extreme weather has also hit British agriculture hard. As we speak, many parts of the country remain flooded. Some winter crops didn’t get planted and some of those that did have been washed away. In places, sugar beet and potatoes remain rotting in the ground. And many of our food producing floodplains have been used to store water to protect houses and businesses. 

“We must pay farmers for storing flood water on their land. We must speed up planning for on farm reservoirs to store water for crop irrigation. Water security must underpin national food security.”

As part of her address, Batters drew attention to the latest impact assessment for the Sustainable Farming Scheme, which predicts 122,200 fewer livestock under the programme.

Blueprint for action on GCA

Batters went on to say that concerning supply chain fairness, “there is no silver bullet”. She explained: “While there’s no doubt that the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) has transformed the way disputes between supplier and retailer are conducted and resolved, there are still many of our members who will not raise a complaint for fear of being de-listed by supermarkets.

“We need a Blueprint for Action. My suggestion is that the GCA survey of suppliers is used to create a new framework. This would embed retailers’ ethical responsibilities to farmers and growers within their business’s environmental sustainability goals and corporate and social responsibility.

“We know that the British public is behind us every step of the way. In 2023, farming and growing rose to second in the list of professions most valued by the public, behind only nursing. We are immensely grateful for this support – it makes all the difference.

“It’s something our politicians should remember in the runup to the general election too. A recent survey showed that 82% of British people want to see targets to increase homegrown food production, and 66% said that parties’ plans for farming will be one of the issues that affects who they vote for at the general election.

“It couldn’t be clearer – progressive policies on sustainable food production aren’t just important for farmers and growers, but anyone who eats food. And it matters at the ballot box.”

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