Simon Jupp MP (East Devon, Cons) called the debate as part of the NFU’s Back British Farming Day earlier in the month.
The debate highlighted a range of issues including the transition to ELMS, labour shortages, and the role of the GCA (Grocery Code Adjudicator.) The NFU’s External Affairs team sent out a briefing to MPs, drawing attention to the key pressures farmers are facing.
Clear communication needed on ELMs
Introducing the debate, Simon Jupp sought greater clarity on the next steps of the transition away from the BPS (Basic Payment Scheme) to the new ELMS support structure. Lamenting poor uptake of the schemes, Jupp criticised what he perceived to be a lack of clear communication from Government and excessive bureaucratic processes that dissuade participation.
Richard Drax MP (South Dorset, Cons) joined Jupp in calling for balanced approach that also guarantees food production.
PM’s promise on labour
Away from the hot topic of ELMS, Jupp urged Defra to work in close collaboration with the Home Office to develop a long-term strategy to respond to critical labour shortages.
Jupp reminded MPs of the Prime Minister’s verbal commitment during his leadership campaign to expand the SWS (Seasonal Workers Scheme) to give agrifood businesses greater certainty and confidence to invest and plan ahead.
Farming Minister Mark Spencer MP (Sherwood, Cons) conceded that he was not in a position to announce any specific figures relating to changes in the SWS but sought to reassure the chamber that Defra is in close discussions with the Home Office.
Paving the way for new entrants
Fresh from his meeting with NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw, Dan Jarvis MP (Barnsley Central, Lab) said he wished to see careers in farming made more attractive and accessible to young people, arguing for better public awareness of the career paths available as well as improving the mental health outreach and support available to farmers.
He cited a Farm Safety Foundation report that revealed that 80% of farmers under 40 rank poor mental health as the biggest hidden problem facing farmers.
Farmers not receiving a fair price
A number of MPs raised the issue of unfairness in producer-retailer relationships. Alistair Carmichael MP (Orkney and Shetland, LD) remarked that, in a context of spiralling input costs, farmers are not receiving a fair price for the goods they produce.
Most vocal on this issue was Chris Loder MP (West Dorset, Cons) who concluded that the GCA was “proving to be totally ineffective”.
Taking the topical example of egg supply chain issues, he argued that price inflation is not being passed on to the producers, provoking a reduction in investment and, by extension, production.
The Farming Minister replied that progress on the issue of fairness in producer-retailer relations will be achieved through regular dialogue between, primary producers, farming unions, the hospitality sector, retailers, wholesalers, and the processing sector. He stated that the Government will facilitate these conversations.
Custodians of the countryside
Responding to the debate, Mark Spencer MP proclaimed this to be a significant and exciting moment for British farming.
Nevertheless, one area in which he conceded improvements were necessary was public awareness and education. He admitted that Defra, and the farming community more broadly (himself included), could do more to ensure people know where their food comes from and how farmers act as custodians of the iconic British landscapes we all enjoy.