NFU23: Farming Minister outlines fundamentals needed for farming 

21 February 2023

An image of Farming Minister Mark Spencer with NFU President Minette Batters on stage at NFU Conference 2023

Farming Minister Mark Spencer told conference delegates that as a fourth generation dairy farmer he knew what it was like to have sleepless nights while dealing with the pressures of farming.

Delegates heard that government was opening up environmental schemes so that they can be part of every farm’s business plans as well as making inspections less punitive.

The minister announced £168 million of small grants to boost innovation, back food production, improve animal health and welfare all while protecting the environment.

Funding news

The NFU welcomed news of the funding, which will be delivered through the FIP (Farming Innovation Programme), FIF (Farming Investment Fund), and ELMs (Environmental Land Management schemes).

Mark Spencer also today announced that the Productivity and Slurry portal under the FETF (Farming Equipment and Technology Fund) is now open for applications.

Mr Spencer said money would go to practical ways of delivering agricultural benefits by developing new technologies such as remote monitoring of livestock, robotic harvesting, cow mattresses to tackle lameness, slurry storage, soil sensors on tractors and innovations to reduce pollution.

Mr Spencer said: “The role farmers play in putting food on our tables as well as looking after our countryside is crucial. We know that sustainable food production depends on a healthy environment, the two go hand in hand.”

Seasonal Agricultural Worker Scheme

Mr Spencer also spoke about seasonal visas – a key NFU lobbying ask that government listened to.

“We have made an initial 45,000 visas available for seasonal workers to travel to the UK for up to six months – that’s 15,000 more than last year – with the possibility of 10,000 more, if we can show that they’re needed, and if we are able to look after those people properly while they’re here, give them a minimum of 32 hours of work every week, and pay them at least the national living wage, of £10.42 an hour.”

“The role farmers play in putting food on our tables as well as looking after our countryside is crucial. Sustainable food production depends on a healthy environment. The two go hand in hand.”

The Rt Hon Mark Spencer MP

Abattoirs key to supply chain

Mr Spencer said that there were no abattoirs in his area of Nottinghamshire and he felt the lack of them. He said: “If farming is to flourish then we need to get the fundamentals right - abattoirs are key to the food supply chain and there is clearly a need to support smaller providers in this area.”  

When challenged about why British meat was experiencing friction being exported to the EU, but the same was not true of goods coming in from Europe, Mr Spencer said that checks were being made and some fraudulent meat had been stopped at the border.

NFU members put questions direct to Farming Minister

Brett Askew asked Mr Spencer if he was proud of the Australian trade deal. Mr Spencer said that he was and it was an opportunity. He said that Australia and New Zealand never reached the quota of meat they were allowed to send to the UK when we were part of the EU.

Livestock farmer Paul Tompkins asked Mr Spencer to confirm that the gains farmers have made against TB would not be lost. Mr Spencer said we had made massive progress but there was a long way to go and we needed every tool in the toolbox and that included limited culling, badger vaccinations and cattle vaccination.

NFU Combinable Crops Board chair Matt Culley said one of the touted benefits of Brexit was about retained EU law regarding pesticides and he asked how that was going. Mr Spencer said that we had rules that we want to keep, rules we want to improve and that we want to get rid of.

Prime Minister addresses NFU Conference

At the start of the political session Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addressed delegates in a recorded video address.

“Thank you for your work to look after almost three-quarters of our countryside, thank you for protecting our natural heritage and thank you for the fantastic food you produce and we all enjoy.”

He said: “I know how important your work is and I know that it is more than just work, it’s a way of life that is passed down through the generations.

“So as Prime Minister, I want to make sure that you know that I am standing up for you, and that I will work day in and day out to ensure that you can continue to play your vital role in our country and our economy for many years to come.” Watch again from 15 minutes 11 seconds.

Meet the speakers from this session

The Rt Hon Mark Spencer MP

Minister of State for Farming, Fisheries and Food (Defra)

Mark Spencer was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in September 2022.

He was previously Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons from February 2022 to September 2022, before which he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Chief Whip) between July 2019 and February 2022. He was elected Conservative MP for Sherwood in May 2010.

Before entering Parliament, Mark was Chairman of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs as well as a District and County Councillor.

He studied at Shuttleworth Agricultural College before joining the family farm business, which now employs around 50 people. He is still a local farmer and businessman, growing the produce which is sold in the farm shop.

Minette Batters

Former NFU President

Minette runs a tenanted family farm in Wiltshire.  The mixed farming business includes a 100-cow continental cross suckler herd, as well as sheep and arable.

Diversification includes the conversion of a 17th century tithe barn into a wedding and corporate events venue, and horse liveries. Minette co-founded the campaigning initiatives 'Ladies in Beef' and the 'Great British Beef Week'.

Campaigning on behalf of NFU members about the importance of British food and farming has been a key driver for Minette throughout her time at the NFU. In 2020 she led one of the most successful petitions ever, bringing together a coalition of chefs, including Jamie Oliver, farmers, environmentalists, consumer groups and animal welfare experts – resulting in over one million people signing the NFU food standards petition. She has also regularly engaged with different media genres including appearances on Desert Island Discs, Question Time, and Any Questions.

She has been an NFU member from grassroots through to County Chair; she served as Wiltshire’s Council delegate and also as Regional Board Chair for the South West. Minette has also been a member of NFU Governance Board and served as NFU Deputy President for four years from 2014 to 2018, before being elected as president in February 2018. Minette is also an ambassador of Farm Africa and was made a Deputy Lieutenant to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 2021.

Officeholder responsibilities 

  • Trade and standards
  • EU and international relations
  • Taxation and fiscal policy
  • Science and research and development
  • Food supply chain (fair dealing, Markets and Authorities, competition, regulation)
  • Food service
  • AHDB
  • Levelling up
  • Education

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