NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw addressed hundreds of farmers and industry delegates at the Royal Three Counties Show, at Malvern, on 17 June and said the new National Food Strategy was welcome and provided positive foundations to build on.
Members and industry delegates in the NFU and NFU Mutual marquee heard the strategy represented a clear milestone with Government recognising the importance of domestic food production and maintaining the country’s productive capacity.
Mr Bradshaw said: “The food strategy is a moment in time, and we could spend a lot of time pulling it to pieces and criticising it, but we have spent six years trying to get Government to recognise the importance of food production and we have done that.
“While it is very easy to write the words on a piece of paper, we now have foundations, and it is vital we positively welcome it.
“I think it is very sad that it takes a tragic situation like what is happening in Ukraine to really raise the food security issue and push it up the agenda, but now that we have got the hooks that are contained within that food strategy it gives us something to build on.”
He said there was a very clear statement of support for domestic food production but also ambitions on self-sufficiency, public procurement and a commitment to grow sectors, particularly horticulture.
Farmers heard there was a need to work with Government, across departments, and the union would continue to make the case on key issues including labour, animal and plant health, and access to water, among others.
“The crisis in Ukraine has tipped the scales upside down, we had high energy prices before the war, but now we are seeing supply chain problems and we are living with huge inflationary pressures,” Mr Bradshaw said.
“Food security cannot be taken for granted and the cost increases being faced, some of which are down to Government policy like setting wages for seasonal workers above the national living wage, are driving this and putting businesses under immense pressure.
“For too long we have taken our food supply for granted and we haven’t valued it as a society.
“We have the third cheapest food in the world in terms of percentage of income and I think the time is coming where we have to ask whether it is possible to continue with a cheap food policy in the way we are, some of these inflationary pressures will need to be passed up the supply chain.
“When was it ever rational to pay £3 for a latte and expect a whole chicken to be delivered for £2.50 because that is where we have arrived at?”
Mr Bradshaw also spoke about the transition away from the Basic Payment Scheme and greening measures.
“As food producers we can’t produce at the expense of the environment - this is about delivering sustainable food production alongside environmental delivery - the two go together like hand in glove, it’s not either or and it can’t be either or.
“Now, we need to lean into challenges and provide solutions for Government.”
“The thing that will underwrite your businesses for the future is the ability to produce.
“The NFU needs to make sure that the regulations are in place to allow you to do that - the planning system needs reform and work is needed on immigration, for example, but we need to make sure our hands are not tied behind our backs.
“We need to focus on key areas, like we have done on The Farming Rules for Water and maintaining access to urea, so you can be productive, professional, profitable businesses with food production working alongside environmental delivery.”
Herefordshire NFU hosted this year’s event and chairman Bill Quan, of Pontrilas, thanked Mr Bradshaw for attending.
In the morning they toured the livestock lines and saw some of the high quality animals at the event – more than 6,000 were shown over three days, not including those in the equine section.
The NFU Discovery Barn was also on site next to the marquee and welcomed school groups and youngsters of all ages who were able to reconnect with food and farming and take part in a host of fun, educational activities.
Barn team Jill Clark, Jamey Haywood and Charlotte Hall took home the Derek Stanfield Perpetual Trophy for the most attractive agricultural stand plus a silver in the best trade stand competition.