Finance

‘Completely contradictory’: NFU leader attacks UK farming policy | farming

The government has shown a “total lack of understanding of how food production works”, introduced “completely contradictory policies” on farming, and risks “repeatedly running into crises” through the lack of a post-Brexit plan for UK farming, the leading representative of British farmers will say today.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, will make a scathing attack on ministers’ failures, unprecedented in recent memory in its ferocity from a farming leader.

Her withering assessment of the government’s actions reflects widespread anger and alarm among many sections of the UK’s farming and food production industries, one of the country’s biggest manufacturing industries and employers. Farmers have suffered from plunging exports and reams of new red tape owing to Brexit, staff shortages as EU seasonal workers have left, and the prospect of floods of cheap low-quality imports after post-Brexit trade deals.

Batters will highlight the fate of the pig industry – which is facing near-collapse under rising costs and staffing shortages – and warn that similar disasters will hit other branches of farming unless the government acts.

She will tell the NFU conference in Birmingham: “We need a plan that pre-empts crises, rather than repeatedly runs into them … this country needs a strategy and a clear vision for what we expect from British farming. We have completely contradictory government policies. It is raising the bar for environmental standards at home but pursuing trade deals which support lower standards overseas. It is claiming to value domestic food production but making it difficult to find workers to harvest or process it. It is stating there are many export opportunities for British food but failing to prioritize the resources to open up those new markets.”

She will call for “certainty, commitment and consistency” in government policy, and point to the successes of British farmers in raising animal welfare and food production standards, improving the environment and pushing to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

But, in excerpts from her speech distributed on Monday night, she pulled few punches in criticizing ministers for their lack of planning, and failure to respond to recent problems in farming.

Pig producers are looking after 200,000 pigs that should have been sent to slaughter, but cannot be because of a lack of staff in abattoirs. Keeping the pigs on their farms costs farmers dearly, wiping out their potential profits. About 40,000 pigs have had to be culled, which creates a further cost to farmers, as well as being a waste of resources.

This “disaster” in the pig industry “should have and could have been avoided”, according to Batters. The situation for pig farmers “truly is an utter disgrace”, she will say. “This is down to the government’s poorly designed change to immigration policy and what I can only say appears to be its total lack of understanding of how food production works and what it needs.”

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, angry many farmers last year when he appeared to make a joke of the crisis in pig production, telling the BBC that pigs raised for food were destined to die anyway. This appeared to ignore the costs to farmers, and their distress at having to put down healthy animals for no purpose.

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, also called for more focus from ministers, particularly in relation to the reforms to post-Brexit subsidies, which will see farmers paid “public money for public goods” through the replacement of EU subsidies with environmental land management contracts (ELMs), whereby farmers are paid for reaching certain environmental improvement goals.

Dunn said: “We need to see a bit more strategy from the government as to how its various policy strands fit together into a consistent whole. ELMs is only one part of a panoply of initiatives including support for new entrants, farming resilience, food policy, standards in trade, regulation and enforcement and supply chain measures which at best continue to be developed in silos. Currently, it feels like there are few threads bringing the patchwork quilt of initiatives together. Farmers need to plan for the long term and want to be in line with wider public policy – however, until that becomes clearer we run the risk of a lack of alignment.”

The NFU wants the government to invest in British farming to sell more homegrown food within the UK, and help farmers to export it; to ensure farmers can get a fair deal with supermarkets, which currently often use their market dominance to squeeze farmers’ profit margins; to reform immigration policy to allow more seasonal farm workers; and to reform farm subsidies in a way that encourages food production as well as meeting environmental objectives.

Batters will say: “Above and beyond everything, we need to all be working to the same objectives and aiming for the same outcome. There needs to be a plan. A plan which enables Britain to keep on farming and to continue to be world leaders in high quality, safe and sustainable food.”

About the author

MAGASIR

Leave a Comment