Prime Minister Gordon Brown has thanked the farming industry for what it does and indicated that food security is an issue that is going back up the government’s agenda.

In a speech to 1000 people attending the NFU Centenary Conference Dinner on Monday night (Feb 18), Mr Brown praised the resilience and ingenuity of farmers and called the union a “great national institution”.

“You [the NFU] are held in esteem, respect affection and perhaps I should say awe by politicians and the people of this country,” he said.

Fabric of history

“You are a great national institution renowned for speaking truth to power, telling people how it is even when it is uncomfortable to hear it.” 

Mr Brown said that farming was not just one item of policy on a list of issues he had to deal with.

“For my family it has been a way of life over the fabric of history. I can trace back my father’s family through generations of farmers.

“And while my father didn’t follow my grandfather on the land, but became a minister of the church, I have very fond memories of holidays on the farm. I remember helping with the wheat and barley harvest in the school holidays was my first paid employment.”

Difficult times

Farmers had faced incredibly difficult times in the past 12 months but were meeting the challenges of change, he said.

“The food security challenge in a world where the demand for food is now growing, particularly because of a rising population in Asia, the economic challenge, the environment challenge, the good health challenge and the challenge to sustain rural communities. You are at the centre of every one of these central concerns for our country and indeed our world.”

Climate change

Mr Brown said that farmers would have to adapt to climate change but “perhaps the most important challenge you face, as you meet your core responsibility to grow and produce the majority of food consumed by British people, is the changing nature of agricultural markets around the world.”

At the turn of century the UK was 40% self sufficient and today it was 60% self-sufficient, he said. This demonstrated the “tremendous support for what you have done as farmers”.

Mr Brown’s speech was well-received by the audience who said that it had been a long time since a Prime Minister had raised the issue of ‘food security’.