British agriculture needs a bold plan from government to ensure a sustainable future for farm businesses and the nation’s food production, the NFU said today at its annual conference.
Opening proceedings, NFU President Meurig Raymond called for ‘actions to back the words’ from Defra on its 25-year plan for food and farming. His call came as the sector faces unparalleled financial pressures from supermarket price wars, delayed Basic Payment Scheme monies, volatile markets and extreme weather.
Average December 2015 prices for milk, wheat and pigs are all down more than 30 per cent from the same period two years ago. Prices for spring lamb in 2015 were down 11 per cent on the five year average due to imports and exchange rate.
And downward price pressure in the horticultural sector is set to be compounded by the introduction of the National Living Wage. The lack of consultation or effort to help horticultural businesses make this workable will devastate fruit and vegetable businesses, the NFU says.
Meurig Raymond said: “British farming has felt blow after blow in recent years – one thing I know for sure is there is no possible way that any sector can carry on in the same vein.
“Farmers borrowed a £17.8billion from banks in 2015 – a record high. This paints a picture for the many businesses having the profit squeezed out of them. Viable businesses cannot continue operating without profit and farms are no exception.
“We are calling on the government to provide the tools our sector needs to overcome the challenges and ensure they thrive. The 25-year food and farming plan must address the fundamental issues of productivity and competitiveness. It needs to see a culture change about how we value food and farming.
:: Meurig Raymond's speech is available here (check against delivery)
“Resilience and competitiveness are central to sustainable, profitable farm businesses. It’s crucial that Defra’s plan ensures British farmers have access to the same agri-tech developments as its competitors - like world-class plant protection products and novel breeding techniques.
“The implications of the introduction of a National Living Wage will be catastrophic for our horticultural sector. Our assessments have shown that it has the potential to make fruit and vegetable growers unprofitable in just three years. We aren’t against a living wage in principle but it must be sustainable for businesses and workers.
“We must see in this plan a properly functioning supply chain which is fair and shares both risk and reward. One where consumers are able to see clearly marketed British food and buy British because of the quality and values that underlie our production.
“We must see a commitment to grow our self-sufficiency in food. The UK has the fastest growing population in Europe – we must be able to feed the nation domestically and reduce the reliance on imported food.
“Being 62 per cent self-sufficient is not something we should settle for and the projected decline to 53 per cent by 2040 is not an option for the sector. The future should see our industry reach its productive potential and Defra’s plan has the power to enable farmers to do just that. The plan must back the future of British farming.”