Farm climate change

The government needs to create new food and farming policies post-Brexit to boost the British food sector’s “stagnant” self-sufficiency levels, the NFU has urged.

Yesterday (9 August) would have marked the day the British larder would run bare if the UK only depended on British food, the NFU said, with the current self-sufficiency ratio of 61% some 14 percentage points lower than in 1991, and the average percentage remaining around the 62% mark for the past 15 years, it claimed.

With the government now mulling its Brexit negotiating position, it had a real opportunity to tailor future food production policy to help reverse the downward trend in the nation’s self-sufficiency, said NFU president Meurig Raymond.

“For the first time in 40 years, it has an opportunity to create policies which will really work for businesses in the UK,” he said. “For food production to thrive in this country, we need to see policies which will stimulate a competitive, dynamic and exciting farming industry.”

Increasing self-sufficiency in food wasn’t “about closing off the markets we have in other countries or being protectionist about our food production”, Raymond added. “It’s about capitalising on what this country is good at - we have world-class standards for food production in terms of traceability and animal welfare.

“We have a massive opportunity for British farming, but, if it’s not seized, we risk exporting our ability to produce food to other countries without the standards British farming upholds, as well as increased exposure to the volatility of global markets,” he said.

A government spokeswoman pledged to “work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people - not least our farming community who play a vital role in our country - at every step of the [Brexit] negotiations”.

But she added: “We are about to begin these negotiations and it would be wrong to set out unilateral positions in advance.”

Raymond’s comments come amid a period of highly charged debate over the future direction of the UK’s food and farming sector, and follows a clash between the NFU and National Trust director general Dame Helen Ghosh last week, who called for a post-Brexit farming policy that only rewarded farmers with subsidies if they were managing land in a “nature-friendly way”.

Ghosh called for future payments to “deliver public benefit beyond food production”, but Raymond responded by stating “food security should be considered to be a legitimate political goal and public good”.

Meanwhile, the AHDB warned in its latest Horizon Brexit analysis, published this week, that the UK farming industry should prepare for a possible reduction in direct subsidy support once the UK leaves the EU, which would “affect the viability of many UK farms”, and could lead to a restructuring of the industry, with production potentially polarising towards larger-scale businesses.