Britain’s declining self-sufficiency in food will be reversed under government plans to introduce a long-term strategy for agriculture, according to farm minister George Eustice.
A 25-year strategy for food and farming was a key pledge in the Conservative manifesto ahead of the general election.
With a majority Tory government now in power, Defra officials will meet industry leaders over the coming month to ensure such a strategy is in place by the end of the year.
Britain’s ability to feed itself has fallen dramatically in recent decades, with self-sufficiency dropping from 78% to 60% in the past 30 years.
But Mr Eustice believes that a thriving and profitable agricultural industry that produced more food will help the UK to export more and import less.
“Self sufficiency will go up as a product of having a vibrant and successful industry,” he told an audience at the opening of the Cereals 2015 event, held at Boothby Graffoe, Lincolnshire, on 10-11 June.
Increasing food exports and opening new markets would be a key focus of the strategy, said Mr Eustice.
“We have a growing world population set to reach nine billion and lots of new opportunities. British farm produce is seen as a premium in the market and has a very high reputation.”
Mr Eustice will meet industry groups on a one-to-one basis over the next few weeks as the strategy is devised.
This will be followed by a larger event at Defra before parliament rises for the summer recess at the end of July. If all goes to plan, the strategy will be in place by the end of 2015.
As well as exports, key aspects of the discussions are likely to focus on ways of harnessing agricultural technology to boost productivity and trebling the number of agricultural apprentices. The NFU had called for a farming strategy “many times”, said Mr Eustice.
Other industry groups are equally keen that Defra lays out a framework for UK agriculture to realise its potential.
A major report by the Agricultural Industries Confederation to be released next week will also highlight the contribution that farming can make to the economy.
NFU president Meurig Raymond said that food and farming combined was the “largest industry” in the UK, worth in excess of £100bn to the economy.
A strategy would give agriculture clear direction, he added.
“Over the past few years we seem to have been lurching from crisis to crisis.”