The government is out of touch with the countryside, shadow DEFRA secretary Mary Creagh has told the Labour Party conference.

The Tory-led government is making the wrong political and economic choices, she told conference delegates in Manchester on Monday (1 October).

The government was so out of touch that their farming minister “didn’t even know the price of a pint of milk,” said Ms Creagh.

Conference delegates were thanked for supporting Labour’s Back the Apple campaign to protect the pay and conditions of rural workers by retaining the Agricultural Wages Board.

“Today, the first of October, what may be the last Agricultural Wages Order comes into force.

“Today more than 152,000 farmworkers, fruit pickers, food packers will get a pay rise – thanks to you.

“Next year, if the Tories have their way, they won’t.”

Ms Creagh said she would be working with her shadow team to “expose how out of touch” the Tories and Liberal Democrats were with rural communities.

Labour wanted a food industry to create the new green jobs that Britain needed.

“The food industry is our largest manufacturing sector. It turns over £76bn a year, with export earnings worth £12bn pounds.”

She added: “The world will need to feed an extra billion people by 2025. We need food security here at home and to export more to a world hungry for Great British food.”

Labour also wanted a fair deal on food.

“The world will need to feed an extra billion people by 2025. We need food security here at home and to export more to a world hungry for Great British food.”
Mary Creagh

“That means a fair price for the milk that dairy farmers produce and a Groceries Code Adjudicator with real teeth.

“Labour have been working alongside the Consumer Association for clearer pricing in supermarkets to ensure special offers really do offer a good deal.”

NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said the government and industry must work together to ensure farmers could meet the challenge of producing more food for a growing population.

“A vital – perhaps the vital – component in delivering affordable food security is how we best make use of R&D,” he told a conference fringe meeting.

“Few people now question the need to ramp up production, but the question remains how we do it, and in particular how we do it while safeguarding the natural environment.”

A 20-year decline in publicly-funded applied R&D meant there needed to be more emphasis on turning basic research into products, technologies and practices that could be used by farmers.

“Government and industry must work together to get this right,” said Mr Raymond.

“In the current economic climate we have to examine both the balance of existing public funding for agricultural R&D and at the same time explore new funding models.”

“We also need to see much better co-ordination between the different bodies involved in setting strategic research priorities,” Mr Raymond said.

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