Simon Fisher looks at how a new Government, post the General Election, should support our food producers.
In case you have not heard, there is a General Election in May and the National Farmers’ Union is ready to talk to candidates having already launched its 2015 General Election manifesto.
While we are not seeking election, we do have a clear farming industry agenda which we’d like the next Government to address.
Food is the country’s largest manufacturing sector with farming as its foundation. Food and farming annually contributes £97.1 billion to the UK’s economy, supports over 3.5 million food chain jobs, producing 60 per cent of the nation’s food.
Drill down more locally and the productive Fenland area of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk accounts for 34 per cent of English horticultural production worth £750m.
For every £1 of economic value generated at the farm gate, a further £3 is added by processing, adding value and transport.
It is estimated that the true value of horticulture in the Fens is £3bn plus, supporting over 60,000 jobs.
For that sector to flourish and produce safe, affordable food, farmers and growers need both the support of consumers to buy our products and the Government to help make farming and growing a long-term, sustainable and profitable industry. They can assist by making sure the environment for investment, innovation and new people to farm the land in the future is fostered.
The NFU manifesto sets out some key challenges that farming faces if it is to flourish. The need to invest in equipment and jobs for the future; access to rural broadband and good mobile phone connections and legislation and taxation policies that help rather than hinder business growth.
Add to these some farming specific issues such as protecting plant health, ensuring that food production is not left behind in research and development terms and providing safe and secure food chains from field to fork, we have our work cut out. Farming is important to the economy and we want the Government, of whatever colour is elected in May, to join with the industry and make it successful and profitable for the long term.
In terms of the horticultural sector we have some key asks:
We need a comprehensive plan to grow UK food production over the next Government’s term, reversing long-term decline in UK self-sufficiency. For horticulture, we ask Government to support efforts to increase consumption of fruit, vegetables, potatoes and plants to improve the nutrition, health and well-being of the nation.
We need Government science funding rebalanced to acknowledge the critical importance of applied research to tackle production challenges and encourage growth.
We need Government to introduce a seasonal labour scheme open to students from outside the EU to undertake seasonal harvest work on our farms. Government must also fully recognise how seasonal workers from existing EU countries are an essential part of the workforce currently underpinning the UK horticulture and potatoes industry.
We need Government to commit to work with industry to take forward the Ornamentals Action Plan, a five-year roadmap to deliver a thriving, productive and profitable British ornamentals sector that is able to grow.
We need Defra’s reforms on water abstraction that delivers an adequate supply of water to meet the increasing demand for UK-grown fruit and vegetables and ornamental plants.
British farmers and growers have a huge role to play both at home and in the global economy and we’re raring to go. So what the NFU’s manifesto asks for is a supportive Government that can clearly show its commitment to our most essential of industries and help us be the industry that feeds the nation and cares for our countryside.