Farm leaders have expressed huge relief that the UK and the EU agreed a last-gasp post-Brexit free-trade deal, but admit it comes with challenges and opportunities.
In her New Year’s Day message, NFU president Minette Batters said the successful conclusion of a deal on 24 December was a “very positive step forward” that “should provide comfort to both farmers and the public”.
But Mrs Batters warned that there would be challenges to overcome, with traders now facing extra costs with checks and additional paperwork for food exports.
She said it is important that the government does all it can to ensure UK food exports are “not left languishing in queues at the border when the changes take effect”.
Mrs Batters said 2020 had been a “year like no other” but the Covid-19 pandemic had resulted in public support for British food and farming reaching a record high – and it was “so important that we get the next chapter right”.
Looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, Mrs Batters said it is crucial that the government works with farmers to ensure its new Environment Land Management scheme is fit for purpose and, that it allows farmers to “continue to produce food, while protecting and enhancing our environment”.
The UK is set to host the international COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November and Mrs Batters said it is an opportunity for British farmers to “truly demonstrate that we are committed to being global leaders in climate-friendly food”.
In his New Year’s Day message, NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said agriculture urgently needs an ambitious, coherent policy delivering a sustainable, profitable industry that addresses climate change, biodiversity and an increasing demand for nutritious, high-standard and high-welfare food.
“We need to throw open our doors to the public and build trust in what we do and how we do it,” he added.
“There is huge potential from selling our story, both on farm and in the food chain. We also need to encourage more diversity in our industry across the piste – it can and will add value, both financially and culturally.”
NFU Cymru president John Davies said the past tumultuous 12 months had highlighted how important a safe, reliable supply of high-quality, affordable food is to the public.
All efforts must be focused on ensuring Welsh farmers have the widest possible range of markets freely open to them on the best terms, he added. And governments must minimise “the impact of red tape on the movement of our produce to the EU”.
In his New Year’s Day message, Farmers’ Union of Wales president Glyn Roberts said the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, our new trading relationships with the EU and other countries, and discussions on future domestic rural policies left an “uncertain road ahead”.
But he added: “Whatever happens, I am confident we can secure a bright future for Welsh agriculture and our family farms.”
In his message, Ulster Farmers’ Union president Victor Chestnutt stressed the need for the government to introduce policies that support the profitability and expansion of local food production.
“Now is the time for our farmers to promote their fantastic story like never before, from the value we put on animal welfare and environmental protection to the great lengths we go to to produce high-quality, nutritious food that we are proud off,” he added.