NFU calls for national farming strategy

Farming’s contribution to the national economy has increased by more than 50% in five years – making agriculture one of the few success stories during the recession, says a report.

UK agriculture has proved remarkably resilient as an industry and continues to deliver for the national economy, says the Backing the Business of British Farming report.

The study is being published to coincide with the first day of the NFU annual conference in Birmingham on Tuesday (25 February).

It highlights some of the many success stories in the food and farming sectors.

The report reveals that UK agriculture’s contribution to the economy increased by 54% during the five years between 2007 and 2012.

Agriculture contributed an additional £8.6bn more to the UK economy between 2008 and 2012 than it did in the 2003-2007 five-year period in GVA terms.

Food and drink is now the UK’s fourth largest exporting sector – exports in the first half of 2013 grew by 2.5% to £6.12bn compared with £5.97bn in the first half of 2012.

The report is calling on the government to put agriculture at its heart and set its economic policies “through the lens” of food security.

The report is backed up by a new consumer survey showing that 88% of people believe the government should have a strategy to ensure a secure and affordable supply of British food.

More details of the report will be unveiled during a speech by NFU president Peter Kendall to conference delegates at the Birmingham ICC.

Mr Kendall said: “The achievements shown in this report prove that farming has been delivering for Britain’s economy despite the challenges thrown at us over the past couple of years.”

As well as the economic downturn, farmers had faced heavy rain, drought, unseasonable snow and flooding across the country – all of which impacted on food supplies.

“We as an industry produce the raw materials for the biggest manufacturing sector in the economy, so trying to get people to understand our contribution to the whole economy is absolutely vital.

“We are growing businesses. We are creating jobs. If the government is looking for a sector to kick-start growth and rebalance the economy then they should start by looking at agriculture.”

Any long-term economic plan for growth in the UK must include a long-term and strategic food plan, said Mr Kendall.

The last time Britain had a national strategy for agriculture was in 2010. It was the first major food strategy to be published since World War Two.

Launched by then DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn at the Oxford Farming Conference in January 2010, the Food 2030 document set out the Labour government’s plans for the next 20 years.

But the document was ditched less than six months later when the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government came to power in May 2010.

Mr Kendall said: “All of us have worked hard to get food production and security firmly back on the agenda.”

It was encouraging that 88% of people thought it important for the government to have a strategy to ensure a secure and affordable supply of British food, he added.

“We have heard DEFRA ministers recently highlight that 24% of the food eaten in the UK is imported when it could be produced here.

“My message is that farmers have a vital role in ensuring a safe, traceable and high-quality domestic food supply, and the collective importance of food and farming to the UK economy must not be underestimated.

“This is why it’s so important that politicians and retailers continue to back the business of British farming.”