The annual NFU conference, this year themed ‘The New Agenda for Farming’ kicks off in Birmingham next Monday, and upbeat NFU president Peter Kendall is to call on the government to ‘put its money where its mouth is when it comes to farming.’
Mr Kendall’s slot is directly before DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn, who signalled a more progressive attitude towards farmers when he spoke at last month’s Oxford Farming Conference.
“There was lots of really good stuff about Oxford,” says Mr Kendall. “What we want to do is pick up on that and set out the agenda we want to see for farming. We want to set out where farming has come from and show where it needs to go.”
In particular, he highlights Mr Benn’s “no ifs, not buts” Oxford insistence that the government wants British farmers to produce as much food as possible – so long as doing so sustains the environment and safeguards the landscape.
The government is at last starting to acknowledge the importance of agriculture, believes Mr Kendall, especially when it comes to food security. The view of Britain as a rich country that can buy itself out of trouble is crumbling, he adds.
“DEFRA is starting to make a lot of noises about food production being important. We want to make sure we have an input into government policy that means farming has a better chance of being successful and thriving.”
Mr Benn’s speech is not the only sign that the government has finally woken up to the potential of British agriculture. Just before Christmas, the Home Office increased the number of work permits for migrant farm workers by 5000.
The number of workers entering Britain under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme had been restricted to 16,250. But the number will rise to 21,250 this year in a bid to overcome a labour shortage that had seen crops left unharvested, states the Farmers Weekly