Sunak to unveil raft of new measures to back British farmers

Prime minister Rishi Sunak is set to unveil a raft of new measures to back British farming, including a new UK Annual Food Security Index and plans to “turbocharge” the horticulture industry.

More than 70 businesses and producers working and supporting the food and farming industry are expected to attend the second Farm to Fork Summit at 10 Downing St on Monday 14 May.

Ahead of the event, details emerged of new farming policies and funding commitments set to be announced by Mr Sunak’s Conservative government.

See also: Farm to Fork summit 2023: Have pledges been met?

A new UK Annual Food Security Index will be published and the prime minister will tell British farmers and growers that his government must go further to support them and secure the nation’s food supplies.

Global shocks

The first draft of the index will allow the government, industry and farmers to monitor the impacts of external factors, such as Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine or extreme adverse weather events, on domestic food supplies.

It will set out how the government will track UK-wide food security on an annual basis, monitoring domestic food production, land use, input costs and farmer productivity.

The Food Security Index has been published alongside a new blueprint to grow the UK fruit and vegetable sector in order to reinforce the country’s food security.

The index highlights that currently the UK produces the equivalent of just 17% of the fruit and 55% of the vegetables that end up on British plates, significantly lagging behind meat, dairy and grains.

A new Horticulture Resilience and Growth offer, which will replace the retained EU scheme, will be rolled out. Through this new scheme, the government will look to double the funding given to horticulture businesses compared with the current scheme, taking it to £80m a year.

It will make up to £10m available to help English orchard growers access equipment, technology and infrastructure to support the growing of British fruit.

Flood support

To help combat the impact of wet weather, Mr Sunak will outline how a £75m fund to support internal drainage boards, announced at the NFU conference in February, will be used to protect agricultural land, including horticulture businesses, and rural communities from flooding, making them more resilient to climate change.

This will include two funds, one for repairs and one to build assets that boost resilience, such as pumping stations.

The PM will also announce at the summit:

  • Up to £3m towards supporting small and mobile abattoirs
  • Delivering on a commitment made in response to the Rock Review into tenant farming and following a call for evidence, confirmation that a tenant farming commissioner will be appointed this autumn
  • A £72m fund for the Endemics Diseases Scheme, which will help eradicate bovine viral diarrhoea in cattle, control porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome in pigs, and tackle a range of health conditions in sheep
  • A £22m infrastructure grant to help poultry farmers improve the health, welfare and productivity of laying flocks.

Labour response

But the Labour Party said after “14 years of Tory failure”, farmers were “at breaking point”. 

Shadow Defra secretary Steve Reed said: “The Conservative government has stood idly by as farmers – including our great fruit and veg growers – have been devastated by flooding, skyrocketing energy prices and undermined by dodgy Tory trade deals. As a result, thousands are being forced out of business. 

“Labour will introduce a New Deal for Farmers to put money into their pockets and boost Britain’s food security. We will cut farmers’ energy bills, slash red tape at the borders to get our food exports moving again, and use the government’s own purchasing power to back British produce.”

Industry leaders react to funding commitments

The NFU said there were “some real positives” in the prime minister’s announcements, especially around food security and horticulture.

But NFU president Tom Bradshaw said these were largely long-term strategic commitments and following the wettest 18 months since 1836, many farmer-members needed help now. 

“The impact of this exceptional extreme weather on farm businesses and farmer confidence means they need immediate support to rebuild resilience,” said Mr Bradshaw.

“We’re talking to ministers and offering them solutions we think will work – we hope that door remains open.”

Ali Capper, executive chairwoman of the trade body British Apples & Pears, said the announcements for the horticulture sector were “hugely welcomed”, especially the support for orchard growers.

But she added: “What we really need to see now is engagement around long-term strategic investment in the horticulture industry. When you are putting an orchard in the ground, you are making 20-year decisions.”

Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association, said he was encouraged that the government had been listening to industry and had finally taken action.

“This is an opportunity to reinvigorate a sector which is really important and is essential to the country’s long-term health strategy,” he added.

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