Defra secretary Michael Gove is set to put more flesh on the bones of his post-Brexit plans for agriculture during a keynote speech to farmers.
Mr Gove will outline his vision for the industry during an address to the NFU annual conference in Birmingham on Tuesday (20 February). With more than 1,000 delegates in attendance, it will be his biggest farming audience since being appointed Defra secretary last summer.
This year’s NFU conference theme is “recipe for change”. It comes ahead of much-anticipated proposals to be set out in a government command paper this spring – and an Agriculture Bill detailing post-Brexit support arrangements for farmers later this year.
Mr Gove has already suggested a five-year transition phase from the current system of direct payments to a system of public money for public goods. His speech is also expected to address red-tape, trade, agricultural productivity and collaboration within the food supply chain.
It coincides with growing unease that Mr Gove’s determination to secure a “green” Brexit which prioritises the environment – and the government’s reluctance to address industry concerns over a lack of seasonal labour – could threaten domestic agriculture.
This week, 36 organisations representing the UK’s food and farming industry issued a joint statement setting out the importance of securing a successful Brexit – and to promote a unified voice from across the food sector as they lobby the government.
The statement calls on the government to continue to promote food production through agricultural policy alongside environmental and animal welfare standards. Signatories included the UK’s main farm unions, the British Retail Consortium, and the Agricultural Industries Confederation.
It followed a meeting of food and farming representatives at the NFU’s headquarters at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire. Delegates were united in their view that a thriving domestic food and farming sector remained central to the country’s environmental, social and economic health.
NFU Brexit and international trade director Nick von Westenholz said: “This statement is a strong signal urging Government to recognise the crucial role the food supply sector will continue to play in post-Brexit Britain.”
NFU poised to elect first female president
Wiltshire farmer Minette Batters is expected to become the NFU’s first female president in the union’s 109-year history.
Two-thirds of respondents to a Farmers Weekly poll said Ms Batters was their preferred choice for NFU president. The union’s leadership elections take place immediately after the NFU’s annual conference in Birmingham on 20-21 February.
Ms Batters is being challenged for the top job by Essex farmer Guy Smith. The two-way battle follows a decision by Meurig Raymond to stand down as union president after an NFU career spanning five decades.
Five other candidates are standing for the positions of NFU deputy president and NFU vice president. Full story here.