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This week, we heard Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, promise to “change the culture” in government around farming. He is the first prime minister to address the NFU conference since Gordon Brown in 2008 and took three DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) ministers with him to put the Conservative case to farmers.
At the conference, which was held at the ICC in Birmingham on 20 and 21 February, he committed to improving food security in the UK and expressed concerns about low self-sufficiency in certain food items and to put right the damage caused both by the war in Ukraine and climate change.
He said: “We are working very hard with individual countries to ease all those areas in which there are differences. Many farmers have been critical of trade deals undercutting their business, including the free trade deal with Australia and the prospect of importing Canadian pork and Mexican beef. Sunak said: “We are absolutely committed to supporting you and making sure that you are not undercut.”  He also expressed sympathy for those who had been affected by recent floods that had wiped out thousands of acres of crops. 
Minette Batters, leading her last NFU conference as president alluded to the protests in Wales, where farmers have been blockading roads with their tractors over plans to force them to plant 10% of their land with trees as part of the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme. She said: “I have watched and listened as the Welsh government try and deny our members and their children the farming futures they had planned.” She added “We must see changes this year to redress the imbalance between environment and food production in government policy before many more farms just simply disappear,”
Farming Minister, Mark Spencer addressed the conference and highlighted how more than £168 million in grants will be available to farmers this year to drive innovation, support food production, improve animal health and welfare and protect the environment. He said: “The role farmers play in putting food on our tables as well as looking after our countryside is crucial. Helping farms invest in new technology as well as bringing in nature-friendly schemes will support the future of farming.”
He confirmed that new funding will be made available to help with “the cost of the new machinery, facilities, and infrastructure” – details to be announced in full later this year.
DEFRA Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey’s reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the vital role farmers play in guaranteeing the UK’s food security. She praised farmers for their efforts to feed the nation against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, extreme weather like droughts and floods and high fuel, feed, and fertiliser costs. She also highlighted the importance of protecting the environment alongside sustainable food production. She said: “Keeping the country fed is what farming is for. Farmers’ primary purpose is to produce the fine food we enjoy; we want you to keep doing that; we want you to get a good reward for that and we also need your help to protect and enhance the environment.”
Recognising the challenging times farmers have faced, DEFRA has taken several steps to support the agriculture industry, including removing tariffs on maize imports from the United States which is a key ingredient in animal feed, improving the compensation scheme for farmers affected by Avian Influenza and expanding the seasonal workers visa scheme for the horticulture sector to 45,000 to ensure they have the labour they need. This is alongside wider government support on energy bills through the Energy Bills Relief Scheme.#
Our Head of Agribusiness, David Kinnersley said: “The announcements are positive, and it is great to see recognition of food security in the introduction of the annual Food Security Index as well as the grant scheme updates. I hope that they are delivered regardless of the Government that the country elects later this year”
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