Defra secretary Liz Truss has outlined her vision of a world leading farming industry at the heart of the government’s economic agenda.
Ms Truss delivered the opening speech to industry leaders at this year’s Oxford Farming Conference on Wednesday (7 January).
This year’s conference theme is Ambitious Agriculture. Ms Truss told delegates: “I am convinced no ambition is too high for British food and farming.”
Despite challenges faced by many farmers, recent fresh evidence demonstrates that the industry is “right to be both ambitious and optimistic” now and in the future, Ms Truss said.
See also: All news from the Oxford Farming Conference
But she has also warned that there is no room for complacency.
“It’s vital we stay ambitious and outward-looking to increase our security against the ups and downs of global economics and politics,” delegates were told.
Exports of English and Welsh wine will break the £100m barrier this year as UK producers take the Australians, French and Italians on at what was their own game, according to Defra figures.
Beer exports are also breaking records, with more than one billion pints of beer sold abroad for the first time as brewers demand high-quality British barley and hops.
Meanwhile, strawberry growers now supply two thirds of the domestic market – thanks to indoor indoor-growing techniques that put produce on the shelves into the winter months.
British cherry growers have adopted a similar “can-do approach,” doubling their crop last year.
Defra analysis suggests that the economy of rural Britain, powered by food and farming, could be as productive as towns within 10 years, claims Ms Truss.
“We have the land, the technology, the entrepreneurial flair – above all the fantastic food – to lead the world,” she will tell delegates at the Oxford Examination Rooms.
“Farming is no sunset industry cut off from the modern mainstream,” Ms Truss said.
“It is a high-tech powerhouse, a sunrise industry. It is at the heart of our long-term economic plan, vital to our country’s future security.”
Farmers are increasingly working hand in hand with manufacturers, retailers, scientists in a food chain Ms Truss says is worth more than £100 billion to the economy.
“That old divide people sometimes still talk about – the farm gate – means less and less. Farmers are anything but cut off behind their gates.”
Mindful of falling farmgate milk prices, Ms Truss told the conference that the government is backing the dairy sector and the food industry across the board – at home and overseas.
“That’s why since 2010, we have signed deals to open 600 food markets abroad,” she said. “We are putting an emphasis on dairy as we seek new agreements, but all farmers benefit.
Ms Truss also claims “real progress” in re-opening the US beef market and agreeing a £45 million deal on exporting UK pork products to China.
France is so worried that Anglo-Saxon food could be threatening its own status as a culinary leader that it is planning a worldwide food campaign of its own, Ms Truss said.
“The French have even complained about a supposed Anglo-Saxon food conspiracy. They are absolutely right to be worried. I am confident we can take on all comers.
“We have the entrepreneurs and go-ahead farmers to do it, taking pride in our heritage to forge a future based on innovation, technology and the quality of our great British food.”
The countryside is now an “entrepreneurial seedbed,” with a higher rate of business creation than urban areas outside London – and new food companies at its heart, Ms Truss said.
“This government will not let farming be ignored again,” she told conference delegates.
“Food and farming is a core part of our long-term economic plan and it is at the heart of this government’s agenda for Britain’s economic future.”