UK - Government policy should be seen through the lens of food security and there should be a long-term strategic food plan in the UK, writes Chris Harris from the National Farmers Union Conference in Birmingham.
Retiring NFU president Peter Kendall, in his opening address to the conference, said that the government should view agriculture as key in a broad spectrum of policies beyond just farming and food production.
He said that immigration regulations including seasonal workers, how imports are monitors for disease, how research councils target research and development funds, planning policy and the treasury’s approach to taxation all have an effect on the agricultural sector.
Mr Kendall said that the UN High Level Panel on Global Sustainability had called on governments to work to create a new green revolution – “and ever-green revolution”.
He said it should be a revolution that “aims to at least double productivity while drastically reducing resource use and avoiding further loss of biodiversity, top soil loss, water depletion and contamination including the scaling up of investment in agricultural research and development”.
Mr Kendall hit out at the greening rules that have been included in the reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy laid out by the European Commission.
“The three crop rule is utter madness,” Mr Kendall said.
“It is not going to add one jot to food security in England and Wales.”
He said there is no logic in the rule as farmers already have well practiced crop rotations that are efficient and profitable.
He added that there are also concerns that the European Commission will be forcing farmers to take land out of production – a move he said that is contrary to the agreement reached by the EU heads of state last year.
Mr Kendall told the conference that UK farming needs to produce more food to meet the growing population but at present the country is only 62 per cent self-sufficient but this does not mean reducing exports.
“Exports underpin the home market and trigger investment in domestic production,” he said.
In his call for a long term strategic food plan, Mr Kendall said that it was not only needed for food security, but also because farming is good for business. It is a big part of the national economy and can be part of the economic recovery.
He said the Irish sector had boosted the value of primary production by 33 per cent and value of exports by 42 per cent through the country’s Food Harvest 2020 vision.
He added that the Dutch have similar strategic plans together with the French and the Australians.
“It’s about boosting farm profitability and agriculture’s contribution to economic growth, trade, innovation and productivity,” Mr Kendall said.
He concluded that “farmland is for food production”.
“It’s also about putting clothes on our back, energy into the grid and plants in our gardens,” he said.
“Farming is about wealth creation.”