'The least we can do is pay you fairly', Sunak tells farmers at NFU conference

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

Rishi Sunak has promised yearly reporting on UK food security
Rishi Sunak has promised yearly reporting on UK food security

Related tags Agriculture Food security regulations

UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has promised British farmers more support, with a new funding package for rural communities and an annual food security report.

Speaking earlier today at the National Farmers Union annual conference in Birmingham, the UK Prime Minister said he remained steadfast on “every penny”​ of the £2.4bn farming budget going to agriculture.

In his address, he announced that the Government will be opening the largest ever grant offer for farmers in the coming financial year.

This is expected to be £427m and include a £220m injection to fund technology and productivity initiatives. This will enable farmers to access new equipment, including kit which increases automation to reduce reliance on overseas workers, and fund cost-saving energy measures like solar.

The funding pot will also go towards upping support for processing, packaging and retailing on-farm.

The Government also pledged to double management payments for the sustainable farming incentive scheme, with an additional £1,000.

“While the importance of farmers will never change – farming is going through its biggest change in a generation,”​ the PM said, as he referenced soaring global prices for fuel and fertiliser.

“We’ve been working hard to get inflation down – from 11.1% last year to 4% now. And we’re increasing payments in our farming schemes by an average of 10%.”

Annual food security reporting to be introduced

Emphasising the importance of food security, the PM outlined plans for an annual Food Security Index. The UK-wide index will capture and present the key data needed to monitor how we are maintaining our current levels of food security across the country, and is expected to be UK-wide.

When questioned on the UK’s resilience, Sunak said there is a tendency to focus on the ‘headline number’ but that he recognised this needs to be improved.

“Underneath that there are categories where there is lack of sufficiency – things like tomatoes, which are 16% self-sufficient for example.”

Commenting on the new Index, NFU President Minette Batters said the move was ‘significant’.

“When we left the EU, we were told the Agriculture Bill would be five-yearly reporting,”​ she added. “It was a real battle to get it to every three years. The good thing about annual reporting focusing on the UK is it means we will be measuring more often, allowing us to monitor the situation, and can see if we have a problem and do something about it.”

In addition, the Farm-to-Fork summit, which Sunak delivered last year, will now become an annual event.

Other plans announced during the conference, included new regulations for the dairy sector which will see them with ‘reasonable and transparent’ contracts. Similar rules have also been proposed for the swine and egg industries too at a later date.

A new supply chain fairness review of the poultry sector is also set to be launched, and Defra is expected to consult stakeholders on whether the sheep and beef sectors should follow.

“All of you work incredibly hard. The least we can do is make sure that you [farmers] are paid fairly for that incredible work you do.

"We are determined to have a supply chain that is fair[...]We are laying the regulations to ensure we do have that fairness and transparency."

When asked about regulatory divergence, the PM said the Government was working hard to ‘ease areas of differences’ and the plan going forward was to continue sitting down with countries and having ‘constructive conversations’.

"I'll be totally honest, it's a work in progress, but we are making progress,"​ the Prime Minister stated.

The PM’s appearance marks 15 years since a prime minister held an address at the NFU conference.

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