Despite one of the tightest general elections in living memory, prime minister David Cameron tells Farmers Weekly he is aiming for a majority Conservative government – insisting it will deliver for farming.
What is your biggest achievement for farming as prime minister?
Getting more people around the world to buy British is one of our proudest achievements in government. Our farmers and producers are now operating in 600 more markets than they were in 2010.
We’re selling cider to Singapore, tea to China, chillies to Pakistan – and, of course, cheese to France. Food and farming is our largest manufacturing sector, employing one in eight of all working people and generating £100bn for the economy.
I want to continue putting this industry at the heart of our long-term economic plan for Britain – so that we produce more, we sell more and we generate more jobs and growth for our country. I would add to the achievement list: flood defences, broadband, cutting regulation and taxes – but there is still more to do.
What percentage of food should be home-grown?
Food security matters – and Farmers Weekly has been right to champion this cause. But it’s also about choice. Shoppers in Britain want to buy British where they can. I’m the same – I’ll always seek out the British label on meat, fruit and other groceries.
Why? Because it is better for our environment, our farmers, our businesses – and it usually tastes better too. But we have the potential to do a lot more. That’s why we have established 17 Food Enterprise Zones, from Cheshire to Norfolk, Sussex to Yorkshire, making planning processes simpler and enabling local businesses to grow.
It is why we have made sure our schools, hospitals and government departments are able to buy more local and seasonal food. In fact, our Plan for Public Procurement will open up a new market for British farmers worth £400m and see central government commit to buying fresh, locally sourced and seasonal food from 2017.
Will you increase the powers of the groceries code adjudicator?
We’re the ones who set up the groceries code adjudicator. Recently, we’ve given it the power to fine retailers. But yes, I do think it is time to look at whether there are ways to extend the remit of the GCA and beef up its powers so it can do more to protect the interests of farmers – particularly when it comes to getting a fair deal from the big retailers.
Does Brussels have too much power over UK farming?
The short answer is yes, it has done. That’s why, just as we’ve played a leading role in securing reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, so we have pushed and will continue to push for a common-sense approach to farming policy, with decisions made at a more local level.
The three-crop rule is a prime example of the difficulties of designing a Common Agricultural Policy for 28 different farming systems. Another area of farming where it is vital that decisions are science-led and evidence-based is the regulation of pesticides.
On this and other issues, I want to see more of those decisions taken here in Britain for the benefit of British farmers.
Will you roll out the badger cull in 2015?
Bovine TB is the greatest threat to our beef and dairy industry. Labour did nothing to tackle the disease, leaving us with the highest rates of TB in Europe.
In contrast, we have put in place a comprehensive strategy to eradicate TB in England by 2038, which includes cattle movement controls, vaccinating badgers and culling badgers in areas where the disease is rife. This approach has worked in Australia and it is working in New Zealand and Ireland.
Unlike Labour, who have said that they will end the culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset, we remain committed to our strategy, and culling is a key part of that. I am clear that we will do whatever it takes to tackle this devastating disease.
Have you achieved your goals in scrapping 80,000 pages of red tape?
I’m proud of this government’s record in cutting red tape. I want to see our farmers farming not form-filling, and I’m sure most farmers would agree we are making progress. We have slashed the volume of guidance from Defra and its agencies by 80%.
I believe in common sense: if farmers have been shown to stick by the rules, if they have exemplary inspections, then they’ve earned the right to have less red tape. It’s called earned recognition, and in the next Parliament we want to go further with it.
Is there any party you would not form a coalition with?
I’m working for a majority Conservative government, so we can carry on seeing through our long-term economic plan to secure Britain’s future. I’m not saying we’ve fixed every problem in the past five years – of course we haven’t. But we are on the right track.
When we came to office we had millions of people unemployed, the largest deficit of almost anywhere in the developed world, and we had suffered our deepest peacetime recession. In five years, we have turned that around. The deficit is halved and almost two million more people are in work.
And last year we became the fastest-growing major advanced economy in the world. That’s creating a strong, healthy economy, which is allowing us to do the things people need, such as cutting taxes, backing businesses and improving public services such as schools and hospitals.
And for farmers, this really matters. No other party appreciates how hard they work or how important they are – putting food on our tables, nurturing our countryside and forming the heart of many communities.
We know what farmers need – a strong economy and a government that is right behind them.
It has always been the Conservatives who are on the side of farmers, and it always will be. So we want an outright majority – and that’s what we’re going for at this election.