NFU President writes for Country Life magazine

18 January 2021

Writing for the latest issue of Country Life magazine, NFU President Minette Batters discussed the issues farmers faced in 2020 and her hopes for the sector in 2021.

Farming is a vital part of our national heritage and whether you prefer the hustle and bustle of a big city or the quiet serenity of the countryside, all of us maintain a connection with farming through the food we eat. Over the past 12 months that connection has been very much evident with an overwhelming swell of public support for everything farming delivers; from providing nutritious, affordable, climate-friendly food for the nation to protecting and enhancing our natural environment.

As the Coronavirus hit, farmers were faced with a monumental challenge to keep food supplies flowing, supermarket shelves full and a nation fed. Not heroes like the amazing staff and volunteers within the NHS, but key workers on the front line during a global pandemic.

The appreciation of our farmers and the quality food they produce is why more than a million people signed up to a petition that demanded our world-leading standards of animal welfare and environmental protection are not undercut in future trade deals. It showed that not only do the British public care deeply about where their food comes from and how it is produced, but that they truly value our farmers for the care that goes into producing their food. The fact that public backing for farming has reached a record high has been a huge, and much needed, boost for many farmers over this past year.

Farmers have faced times of huge adversity before and in my eyes the countryside is the epitome of resilience, for the food it continues to produce and for the comfort and recreation it offers. And we have seen how many people have relied on it in recent months. Maintained and enhanced by generations of careful stewardship, it will outlast this, or any other, pandemic. Beyond the Coronavirus, beyond Brexit, the countryside will continue to be at the heart of our nation’s future.

Just before Christmas we heard the welcome news that a trade deal between the UK and EU had finally been negotiated. We now embark on a new and different trading relationship with our nearest neighbours as well as other countries across the world, and I look forward to working with government to ensure we all benefit from the opportunities this new era presents.

With agriculture occupying more than 70% of this small island of ours, farm businesses play an irreplaceable role in looking after our cherished natural environment and work hard to leave their farms in a better condition for the next generation. As farmers we live and work in nature – we see its magic at work every day – doing all we can to protect it and share it with others is a big part of bridging the gap between food production and the people that eat our food.

Many people don’t realise that British farming is among the most sustainable in the world – emissions from UK beef production are half that of the global average. We are leading the way in tackling what is arguably the greatest environmental challenge facing us all, climate change. And we can do so much more.

One of the great attributes of British farming is our abundance of grass. Many don’t realise that 65% of our farmland is simply not suitable for growing other food crops but thanks to our weather we can grow grass. Rolling hills and valleys which are bountiful with lush, green grass, regularly watered by the ample rainfall blowing in from the Atlantic. Thanks to grazing livestock, this grass is turned into high quality, nutritious meat providing valuable proteins which are often not naturally found elsewhere in our diet. Grazing pastures also act as a comprehensive sink for carbon ably demonstrating farming is part of the climate change solution.

In fact, we have set ourselves a target to become net zero across the whole of British agriculture by 2040. Farmers are eager to innovate and adapt their businesses to support the green recovery and hundreds are taking positive steps to achieve this goal.

Britain’s farmers want to be the number one supplier of choice domestically, in our schools and in our hospitals, and we enjoy a worldwide reputation for quality, safe, sustainable food that can be at the forefront of the government’s Global Britain ambition. But if farming is to reach its own net zero ambition, we need the policies and incentives to help us get there; whether it’s through increasing productivity so we can produce more from fewer inputs, conserving carbon through the soil, managing bigger hedgerows, planting more woodland or producing more renewable energy. Ultimately, we want to build a legacy of climate-neutral farming, with a farmed environment that can both feed the nation and thrive with wildlife.

As we now start to navigate a new life outside the EU for the first time in 47 years, alongside the continued ramifications of the global pandemic, there will undoubtedly be twists and turns along the way. British farming’s desire to continue producing a safe, secure and sustainable supply of home grown, climate-friendly food, produced to some of the highest standards in the world, and doing all we can for our cherished countryside, remains resolute. If that’s what you want too, then continue to back British farming; shout loud and proud to your friends, neighbours and, not least, the government about why British food and farming is important to you. Your support is going to be invaluable in the months and years ahead.

Minette Batters

NFU President

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