NFU President Minette Batters told farmers that although the industry is facing a time of ‘seismic, unprecedented change’, the union will continue to fight for an orderly Brexit and champion high welfare British food standards.
At the Royal Three Counties Show NFU members from Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire heard that the union’s work continued on all fronts, including on labour, farming’s environmental credentials and on trade issues.
Mrs Batters spoke to a packed marquee at the show’s farming awards on Thursday night (13 June) and then in the main NFU and NFU Mutual marquee on the first day of the three day showcase event in Malvern.
She said: “We are trying to be really open and honest with our membership; we have a divided country on what the future holds.
“We are an apolitical organisation but we are saying that we need to do what is right for British agriculture and horticulture.
“We feel no deal is really bad for our industry and we had a snapshot when they published the tariff schedule and it was very clear and of huge significance for the three counties.
“Horticulture was left out with no tariff protection, eggs were left out with no tariff protection, and the entire arable sector, which should be able to demand reciprocal tariffs, was left out; in the first year alone you would see a £300 million price tag with no tariffs on the arable sector.”
“We will keep fighting on no deal and we will do everything we can to ensure we have an orderly departure from the EU.”
She also discussed key legislation, including the workforce, farm standards and land management.
“Herefordshire alone has more than 5,000 seasonal workers and very low unemployment, so it’s not hard to work out why we need a global seasonal workers scheme and we need more than 80,000 seasonal workers across the country,” she said.
“But it doesn’t stop there as we need permanent workers, a whole new immigration policy is needed that is about skill set and what we need as an economy, rather than this basis of you are going to come here if you are highly skilled and if you’re not you are not welcome.”
On trade policy Mrs Batters told farmers that it was vital to get British farming standards built into legislation.
“It is fundamental to a future agriculture policy that we get this right and Defra Secretary of State, Michael Gove, has agreed to pull a trade commission together but that does not go far enough and we need to see legislation in the Agriculture Bill.”
She also spoke about British food values, including animal welfare standards and levels of environmental protection, which are heavily legislated and regulated in the UK, as opposed to other countries where there if often no such legislation.
Mrs Batters touched on hormone-reared beef and chlorinated chicken but used UK laying hen welfare regulations as an example - she said with legislation firmly in place over stocking densities in Britain there were no such rules for American farmers.
Members heard the NFU would continue to make the case on food values when it came to trade deals, as other countries did have lower standards and farming systems that would be illegal if adopted in the UK.
Mrs Batters also discussed the industry’s commitment to net zero carbon emissions, but was clear that this was ‘without disturbing net farming income or downsizing production’.
“We have committed as a senior officeholder team to face into this storm,” she said.
“Climate change is a challenge of our time; the moment I said that ‘we can and will be part of the solution and we wanted to achieve net zero by 2040’ the doors were open.
“We have, as an industry, to start saying we are up for this, we are part of the solution, so work with us.”