Much to be positive about, says NFU chief

Meurig Raymond
Meurig Raymond

In his first New Year message as NFU President, Meurig Raymond has urged Government to embrace farmers and growers’ optimism for the longer-term future to help grow the industry and reverse the country’s declining self-sufficiency.

“I am optimistic for the future of our industry, like many farmers, but we need early Government action – action which shares this optimism and work with the industry to plan for sustained growth over the course of the next Parliament.

“At very least the Government should aim to reverse declining UK self-sufficiency,” said Mr Raymond.

“This needs to be part of a longer-term vision. I want to see a Government with policies that enable UK farmers to feed this growing population.

“Encouragement to invest in capital infrastructure to modernise farm buildings and reduce our energy use is needed. I want to see a Government that commits to targets for buying more food locally from UK assured farms too. And I want to see policies based on robust scientific evidence, rather than driven by populist campaigning, as I fear is driving the regulation of agricultural pesticides.

“As this year draws to a close, many will reflect on the challenges that we’ve faced. It is absolutely clear that we are living in volatile times.

“Farmers have seen their crop values, milk and beef reduced by up to 34 per cent. We’ve seen rain lashing down, bringing with it horrendous flooding which devastated thousands of acres of land, showing the grave vulnerability of rural areas and farmland.

“It’s because of this the NFU continues to lobby government to rebalance its flood spending priorities – something which the Chancellor pledged to do in his Autumn Statement by investment in the flood defence budget. “

He added: “Commodity price volatility is also of great concern to me. Further reductions in the price of milk paid to dairy farmers will place huge pressure on cash flows for these farmers in the months ahead.

“I know exactly what this means to our business and we at the NFU are in difficult discussions with government, processors and retailers so that we can maintain an economic sustainable dairy industry for the future.

“We are also making the case in Europe for better labelling and a stronger safety net for farmers. I’m convinced that the Government can do more to help as farmers face volatile markets.”

He said for many livestock farmers, it is the short term that is most troubling.

With bovine tuberculosis endemic across much of western England and Wales, cattle movement controls have been tightened as part of Defra’s 25-year TB Eradication Strategy which he said must involve control of TB in wildlife, especially badgers.

He said farmers need to take advantage of the fact that more and more members of the public are thinking positive things about farming.

“And there’s much to be positive about. Farming has come out of the shadows in the last decade as increasing concern about food security highlights a forward-looking sector offering solutions to society and the economy,” he added.

“Farming is the bedrock of the food industry, the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, and central to the rural economy and environment. So, good reason for the next Government to Back British Farming.”