The visits provided excellent opportunities for the Secretary of State to meet with members to hear their experiences and explore the ways in which Defra and the NFU can work in partnership to support British agriculture.
Food security discussions
The first visit took place at NFU Norfolk Chairman Tim Papworth’s farm in North Norfolk.
The Secretary of State enjoyed a tractor tour of the farm where there was a range of discussions on issues such as abstraction licenses, Defra’s Plan for Water, labour shortages, input costs and opportunities for research and development.
The overarching theme tying all these issues together was food security, where members continued to reiterate the need to ensure we are producing more of our own food.
Uplands concerns raised
The following week, the Secretary of State was keen to understand the concerns of upland farmers and visited NFU Uplands Forum member Jane Bassett’s family farm in the Peak District, where they run suckler cows, chiefly Angus and Hereford, alongside a Texel/Mule flock.
The SoS undertook a farm tour where she was shown a low input grassland field, which is being considered for Countryside Stewardship and/or SFI but current payment rates are unattractive, opposite a productive grassland field that had been sprayed off ready for ploughing.
NFU Uplands Forum Chair Thomas Binns was on hand to answer questions and press home points.
This was followed by a roundtable with four farmers representing the Peak District beef, sheep and dairy sectors as well as being part of agri-environment schemes.
During the roundtable, members were able to share their experience of agri-environment schemes with the Secretary of State.
They called on Defra to streamline the online application process on SFI and Countryside Stewardship to encourage uptake, highlighted the importance of getting right payment rates, and asked for more communication on the schemes from Defra to give farmers greater confidence and clarity.
Farm to Fork Summit
These visits coincided with the inaugural Farm to Fork Summit at Downing Street, hosted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak which NFU President Minette Batters and other industry leaders attended.
This followed NFU calls for the government to back British farming and make a secure supply of home-grown food a political priority.
The Prime Minister wrote an open letter to British farmers outlining the government’s six principles to ensure British farming is at the heart of British trade.
The string of recent high-profile visits and events demonstrate how the NFU has been working to ensure British food and farming is firmly on the political agenda, working with the highest levels of Government to represent members across Whitehall.