Key takeaways from Farm to Fork 2024

Prime minister Rishi Sunak is being challenged by farm leaders to match his warm words on food security with meaningful actions.

Mr Sunak hosted almost 100 representatives from the food and farming industry for the second Farm to Fork Summit at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday 14 May.

Key announcements included a new blueprint to grow the UK fruit and vegetable sector, an annual Food Security Index to monitor how much food the country consumes is produced domestically and further support for farmers affected by wet weather.

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

Further major summit announcements

Rishi Sunak set out further support for farmers affected by the wet weather to invest in sustainable farming practices, innovation and to boost domestic production.

These included:

  • A £75m fund to support drainage boards, announced at the NFU conference in February, to protect farmland and rural communities from flooding
  • A £72m fund for a new Endemics Disease Scheme to help eradicate bovine viral diarrhoea in cattle, control porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome in pigs, and tackle various health conditions in sheep
  • An infrastructure grant for laying hens with £22m of funding as part of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway
  • Grants of between £5,000 and £500,000 to help laying hen and pullet farmers to improve the health, welfare and productivity of their flocks under the Laying Hen Housing for Health and Welfare Grant scheme
  • £3m in support for new and mobile abattoirs through the Farming Investment Fund
  • The latest round of Genetic Improvement Networks, with up to £15m in funding over the next five years to boost breeding research for key UK crops
  • Confirmation that a tenant farming commissioner will be appointed this autumn, building on recommendations in the Rock Review.

Food security

The index says national food security is “broadly stable” but shows the UK produces only 17% of the fruit and 55% of the vegetables that end up on British plates, significantly lagging behind meat, dairy and grains.

NFU president Tom Bradshaw said the government must “match its ambitions” on food security and introduce targets for different farming sectors within the index, such as a target of 45% for fruit by 2035.

“If we had targets within that Food Security Index then it would really start to lead to deliverable outcomes,” he told reporters post summit.

Mr Sunak said the UK could consume 70% of the vegetables it produces, but did not set a target date during an interview with BBC Farming Today, recorded at the summit.

The prime minister said the combination of extending the Seasonal Worker Scheme to 2029, reforming the welfare system to support more British people to return to work and investment in automation in the longer term were the “right way to grow more British food and support the economy”.

Rishi Sunak meets Morrisons at the Farm to Fork Summit 2024

© Simon Walker/No 10 Downing Street

Farm support uncertainty

Asked if his government would commit to maintaining farm support at current levels if it wins the general election, Mr Sunak was non-committal.

But he insisted that representing a rural constituency in North Yorkshire he “believes deeply” in supporting British farmers to produce the nation’s food and grow the sector, adding: “What I want our farmers to know is, I have got their back.”

The prime minister pledged to double the post-Brexit Horticulture Resilience and Growth funding pot to £80m each year in a bid to reduce imported product.

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

Ali Capper, executive chairwoman of trade body British Apples and Pears, said apple and pear growers will be “absolutely delighted” by these announcements, adding that the future of the sector “looks brighter”.

As farmers nationwide struggle to come to terms with the wettest 18 months on record, which has wreaked havoc on crops and businesses, The Wildlife Trusts criticised the government’s Food Security Index for confining the impacts of climate change as a “longer-term” risk to farming.

“The unprecedented wet weather means production of major crops in the UK are down 21.2% this year.

“This [climate change] is a short-term threat and must be treated with the necessary urgency,” said Barnaby Coupe, the trusts’ land use policy manager.

Rishi Sunak addresses Farm to Fork Summit 2024 attendees

© Simon Walker/No 10 Downing Street

Labour response

Commenting on Mr Sunak’s farming announcements, Shadow Defra secretary Steve Reed said: “After 14 years of Tory failure, our farmers are at breaking point.

“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.”

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