Speaking at the NFU Conference in Birmingham, outgoing NFU president Meurig Raymond told the 1,500 delegates and attendees, including Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove, that the nation needed a “good Brexit”.
This, he added, was “one which means British farming and food production builds on the £112bn it already contributes to the economy and supporting jobs for almost four million people; has access to a competent and reliable workforce to harvest our fresh produce; and sees Britain’s self-sufficiency in food increase rather than decrease.
“Food is at the heart of the British countryside; it’s at the heart of the British economy. British farming produces a safe, affordable and high-quality supply of food,” said Raymond.
“British farmers want to be the first supplier of choice, servicing every price point and serving every plate, feeding Britain with food produced to a high standard, independently inspected to ensure its integrity. We have the climate and soil, we have the knowledge and desire, and we have the Red Tractor.”
Raymond warned that, in order to attain a successful Brexit for British food and farming, there needed to be a focus on environment, productivity and building resilience to volatility.
“Time is running out. To use a farming analogy, those three cornerstones outlined in our vision are three legs of a milking stool. There’s a lot of spilt milk if you remove one of them,” he said. “We must have frictionless trade with the EU.
“Everything else, including the final shape of any domestic agricultural policy, is dependent on that. And, of course, those who advocate a cheap food policy, of scouring the world for low-cost food, should bear in mind the price paid in traceability, in standards and in the off-shoring of environmental impact.
“To deliver farming’s true potential for Britain we must have a trading environment that helps, not hinders. We must have a food supply chain which shares the risk equally – rather than piling all the risk onto the farmer.”
He warned against falling standards in the food industry after Brexit.
“British farmers are extremely proud of the standards they adhere to – most of them linked to the Red Tractor, which ensures the very best in traceability. We mustn’t let those standards slip and be undermined by a bad trade deal during Brexit negotiations.
“A growing population has a growing appetite. Not only is it unwise to depend increasingly on whoever and wherever in the world to feed us, but without thriving food businesses there simply will not be the people – farmers – to look after and nurture the countryside.
“Britain’s farms need access to the EU market, we need access to a reliable workforce and we need measures to help our food and farming industry be more productive.”
Raymond called on the Secretary of State and the rest of government to work together to form a “new British food and farm policy right for the British people, those who deserve to know the food they eat is produced to the highest standards, by farmers who care for the environment and by an industry which is driving the British economy”.