Farming minister George Eustice is in North Yorkshire today, meeting farmers in Leyburn and Skipton. Here he sets out how the government plans to make future agricultural policy work for the region
FOOD and farming are vital to the UK’s economy, contributing £110 billion, and Yorkshire plays a major part in that. The region’s farmers produce a large portion of England’s livestock and crops, with more than a third of the country’s pigs farmed here. As we prepare to leave the European Union we have a unique opportunity to shape these industries so that they work for Yorkshire and the UK.
I am looking forward to meeting a wide range of Yorkshire farmers today, hearing their ideas about how they can become more productive, while protecting the hills and dales and dry-stone walls that make the Yorkshire landscape so iconic. In Leyburn I will visit a pilot project using an outcome-based approach that pays farmers according to the results they achieve in trying to protect their rich upland habitats - the better the environmental outcome, the higher the payment.
Last month Defra outlined the five principles that will guide us as we shape our future approach outside of the European Union to support our food and farming industries to grown more, sell more and export more fantastic British food. Over the coming months I’ll be visiting farmers across the country and listening carefully to their views, to make sure we build a common-sense system that works for everyone.
The first of these principles is productivity and innovation. I believe the Common Agricultural Policy provides our industry with little reason to innovate on the farm, or make use of the most up to date technology. As a result our productivity is far lower than our neighbouring countries. But leaving the EU provides us with an opportunity to put innovation and technology at the heart of farming.
However, it’s not just innovation that is needed to boost our productivity. We also need to encourage more people into a career in farming. Although the number of people working in agriculture in Yorkshire is above the national average, I still believe there are opportunities to get more people working in the sector in the future.
I recently met with young farmers from the Tesco Future Farmers scheme. Schemes like this give young people vital knowledge and skills to kick-start their careers. The students I met have a real passion and drive for farming and I want to urge the industry to engage with more young people and demonstrate that farming is a prospective career choice.
The second principle is trade. Earlier this month I was in Dubai attending the world’s largest annual food trade show, championing the best of British food and drink. The Gulf is the UK’s third largest export market – worth more than £1.5 billion, however only one in five food producers export their goods abroad and are taking advantage of these international markets.
We now have the opportunity to open up new markets for our world-leading produce, such as Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese, situated in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. In 2015 alone, Yorkshire and the Humber’s farming output topped £2.2billion - but we hope this can increase. Through Defra’s International Action Plan we will be identifying new markets around the world, and helping to give producers the skills and confidence they need to make the most out of these new relationships.
However, none of our plans will be possible unless the industry is resilient to the unique combination of threats that make the job of farming so challenging. This is the basis for our third principle.
We will be looking at what we can do to better future-proof farm businesses and support them from the range of issues that can affect them, from flooding, to market volatility and disease – such as the recent avian influenza case in Settle, which brought the challenge of movement restrictions with it.
We also need to support and encourage farmers to protect the environment, farm sustainably, protect our water courses and support the recovery of farmland birds and other habitats.
Yorkshire boasts some of our country’s finest countryside and wildlife, with the Yorkshire Dales and North Yorks Moors National Parks drawing visitors from around the world to marvel at the county’s natural beauty and diversity.
That is why our fourth principle is sustainability. Any new system of farming support will have environmental protection at its heart, with farmers being properly recognised for the role they play in protecting and enhancing our unique landscapes.
Plant and animal health and welfare is something that as a country we are renowned for. Our farmers work to high standards, which is why consumers can confidently buy British. Our fifth principle, therefore, seeks to promote trust in British food and welfare standards. As a country we have gone further than many other EU member states when it comes to animal welfare, and now we have the opportunity to go even further. Plant and animal health and welfare will be embedded into any future policy so people at home and abroad will continue to have faith in British produce.
These five principles will guide us as we develop plans to support our food and farming sector. We want to give everyone their say on them, to ensure we build policies that enable our vital industry to thrive - and so we can make the most of this once in a generation opportunity.
The ongoing discussions we are having with organisations across the sector and beyond will enable us to do this well into the future.
By working together, I am confident that we have a bright and prosperous future for our farmers.