Brexit offers the opportunity for change, to build a bold and ambitious future that puts competitive, sustainable and profitable farm businesses at the heart of a dynamic food supply chain. I am clear on what success will look like. I want British farmers and growers to remain the number one supplier of choice to the UK market, and I want British people to be able to enjoy more sustainable, quality, affordable British food at a range of different prices that suit all incomes. And I know farmers and growers want to do this in a manner that’s sympathetic to the environment on which their food production relies, so that future generations can continue to enjoy not only great British food but the great British countryside too.
Farmers and growers are proud to produce the wholesome food that sits at the heart of every healthy, balanced diet, and so I welcome efforts to create closer links between food production, health and education. I particularly look forward to the publication of the Agriculture Bill as a rare opportunity to work with government and parliament in constructing a positive framework for farmers to succeed post Brexit.
The UK’s short, safe and secure food supply chains lead the world in traceability and food safety. Among its many benefits, this means we can seize the opportunities Brexit will present by growing our international exports abroad, for instance through the “Great” campaign, underpinned by Red Tractor Assurance. We can also define new rules for British procurement, ensuring our schools, hospitals, hotels and restaurants, and all procurement under the government buying standards, are sourcing British assured ingredients wherever possible.
As farmers we have made great strides over recent years on environmental performance and the record of British farming in recent decades in looking after our environment is a good one. Of course farming, in line with every other successful industry, needs to adapt, respond and continually improve its offering to society. One of the challenges will be to identify the areas where such improvement is needed and the most effective ways of achieving it. Farming can provide the answers to many of the environmental challenges we face today, and government must make sure it builds on the experience of practical farmers to design and deliver reforms.
Of course, the success of much of my ambition for British farming will depend on how our withdrawal from the EU is handled. In recent years we have relentlessly sought to improve our productivity, producing food more efficiently and sustainably, against a backdrop of tough trading conditions and volatile markets. But a Brexit that fails to champion UK food producers and the businesses that rely on them runs the risk of undermining this. It would be bad for the country’s landscape, its nature, the economy and critically our society. British farmers are immensely proud of their standards of production and their record on the environment and welfare. Not only is it important that this is recognised and applauded, but also that we ensure, in an uncertain future, we don’t take any steps that undermine those high British food and farming standards – standards we know the public values as much as we do.
As the government negotiates the UK’s withdrawal and establishes its future relationship with the EU, it must be unqualified in its support for the UK’s food supply chain, explicitly recognising its importance in a post Brexit Britain – in managing 70% of the UK landmass that is farmed, in providing 3.8 million jobs in industries both pre and post farm gate, in contributing two of the UK economy’s big success stories: UK manufacturing and retail, and in providing a safe, secure and affordable supply of food to some of the highest health, welfare and environmental standards in the world. Given a level playing field and a positive operating environment, I have no doubt that British farming can deliver much greater returns to the economy and society, but so much is dependent on the decisions taken by our own government. I hope that all those who have an interest in the future of food, farming and the environment can come together and seize the opportunities Brexit presents us to build a better future.
Minette Batters is President of the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales (NFU).