In addition to “fairer supply chains”, the plan should result in increased national self-sufficiency in UK food and a rise in farm business profitability within its first five years, in order to be judged successful, said NFU president Meurig Raymond.
“The plan needs to set out how to achieve a fairer, more transparent supply chain,” Raymond told a conference organised by the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum today (Tuesday March 22).
“This should mean a bigger role for the Grocery Code Adjudicator and recognise the industry’s voluntary codes, urge the whole supply chain to follow these terms and not treat them as fair weather agreements.”
The government’s 25-year plan should be bold in addressing “fundamental issues of productivity and competitiveness”. It also needed to deliver a culture change about how the UK values food and farming, he added.
Whatever government was in power, it was crucial set goals were used to monitor the plan, said the NFU boss. “Government and ministers come and go. Farm businesses do not.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) should publish the plan as soon as possible, he urged. But details of the 25-year project will be released only after the EU referendum on June 23, it was understood.
“Declining productivity equates to declining competitiveness and for consumers, more worryingly, a slide in the nation’s self-sufficiency,” Raymond told the forum.
“For most farm businesses, the threat is more fundamental still. Profit is seeping out of the sector and investment with it, not helped by the double whammy of increasing labour costs and intense pressure on retail prices.”
The NFU boss warned farmers faced severe economic challenges – even if the future looked brighter at present. “The question farmers are asking me is whether this plan will deliver for UK farming, reversing years of political neglect and economic investment, to become not just profitable but more productive and competitive in the market place.”
‘Reversing years of political neglect’
Since DEFRA secretary of state Liz Truss was “a strong advocate of the UK’s world-leading agri-research”, Raymond predicted the plan would set out how this knowledge could benefit UK producers and consumers – and not be exported.
The 25-year plan should show how EU regulation and UK agencies would change to allow farms access to developments like novel breeding techniques, world-class plant protection products and other new technologies as they came on board, he added.
“The plan also needs to set out how to achieve a fairer, more transparent supply chain. This should mean a bigger role for the Grocery Code Adjudicator and recognise the industry’s voluntary codes, urge the whole supply chain to follow these terms and not treat them as fair weather agreements.
“This plan to ensure British agriculture thrives needs to be bold, it needs to address fundamental issues of productivity and competitiveness and it needs to see a culture change about how this country values food and farming.”
Three measures to judge the 25-year plan
Within five years the plan should:
- Boost UK self-sufficiency in food
- Increase farm business profitability
- Foster increased fairness and security in supply chains