The NFU's next generation forum chairman David Ractliffe writes in the Western Morning News why we must stand up for the best of British farming and not sacrifice farm standards for a trade deal:
As a dairy and beef farmer in beautiful Gloucestershire and chair of the NFU’s Next Generation Forum, I want to secure a bright future for British farming and home grown food. With Parliament finalising new laws on both trade and agriculture over the next few months, today’s Back British Farming Day is more important than ever.
Farming is worth £1.6bn to the South West’s economy, turns over £4bn annually and directly employs 64,200 people. We will be taking the opportunity to remind local politicians of these figures to ensure they are fresh in their minds as they vote on issues which will have long term consequences for farming in Gloucestershire, across the South West and all over the UK.
Today is also a great opportunity for the whole farming community, politicians, and the great British public to unite over an issue that concerns us all – food production standards.
When we talk about food standards, we are talking about the strict regulations governing how we produce food while maintaining high levels of animal welfare, environmental protection, and food safety.
The beef cattle that we rear on the farm comply to strict regulations and I know it takes hard work every day to uphold UK food production standards. This hard work results in high animal welfare, robust traceability levels and drives down antibiotics use.
Not all countries have the same approach. Overseas farmers, in many of the countries that the UK government is actively negotiating trade deals with, have significant cost of production advantages over UK farmers due to lower farming and food standards.
I believe to enable and support a thriving British agriculture sector it is crucial that the UK’s future trade policy respects our own production standards. To ensure we get it right on trade deals, we need effective parliamentary scrutiny. That is why our elected representatives should have a say on trade deals that have far reaching consequences for the future of farming and the food we put on our plates.
More than half of Gloucestershire has Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) status, attracting 38 million visitors a year and worth £1billion to the local economy. Much of this land is cared for by farmers – it is our home. Our dairy cows graze fields around our farm for much of the year. Some of these would not be suitable for growing crops like wheat and barley but perfect for growing grass! In my experience, every good farmer wants to leave their land in better shape than they found it. This means encouraging biodiversity, providing habitat for wildlife, maintaining clean waterways, and keeping our soils healthy.
For generations, the land I farm in the AONB has been grazed by cattle, producing some of the most climate-friendly meat in the world. And I am not alone growing and rearing climate-friendly food. With a goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2040 and high standards in food production and environmental protection, sustainability is at the heart of everything British farmers do.
We want the Government to support the efforts of British farmers and in doing so make the UK a world leader in climate friendly, sustainable food.
Having a sustainable future for our food and farming also means ensuring food security. The current pandemic has brought the issue of Britain’s food security into sharp focus. Empty shelves in supermarkets have reminded us all just how important domestic food production and resilient supply chains are.
Through my dairy herd, I am acutely aware how precarious it can be to produce food in the UK. Dairy farmers experienced a drop in demand for milk with the closure of thousands of cafes, restaurants, and offices. Continued effects of the pandemic have hurt many farmers across the country and showed the importance of ensuring we have a resilient UK food supply chain.
The Government is proposing to report on Britain’s food security every five years. The Agriculture Bill, making its way through parliament, is a great opportunity for the Government to step up and put concrete policies in place to show a firm commitment to Britain’s food security and the role that farmer’s play in that, by reporting on this issue every year.
This Back British Farming Day we need to put this issue in front of our MPs. We all want high welfare, environment and climate-friendly food and we need to show our MPs that this is an issue their constituents care deeply about. Because this is not just about food standards, this is about the future of British farming.
I hope my MP and politicians across the UK will use the opportunity presented by Back British Farming Day to stand up for British Farming and ensure we do not just survive but thrive. You can also get involved, show your support, and raise the profile of the day. Search “Back British Farming Day” to find out more.