Government accused of being focused on ‘anything other than food’ in countryside

National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters criticised ‘contradictory’ policies for the agricultural sector.

22 February 2022

Farming leader Minette Batters has accused the Government of being “focused on anything other than domestic food production” in the countryside.

The president of the National Farmers’ Union told her organisation’s annual conference in Birmingham that the Government had “completely contradictory” policies for the agricultural sector.

These include raising the bar for environmental standards at home but pursuing trade deals which support lower standards overseas, as well as making it difficult to find workers to harvest or process domestic food, and failing to prioritise resources to open up new export markets, she said.

She raised concerns about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which between them produce 30% of global wheat exports, and economic pressures including 200% inflation in fertiliser costs.

“Yet while there is a cost of living crisis looming and an increasingly unstable world, the UK Government’s energy and ambition for our countryside seems to be almost entirely focused on anything other than domestic food production,” she said.

“Whether it’s reintroduction of species; an ambition to set 30% of our land aside, or a payment system almost in opposition to food production.”

Many farmers oppose the return of species such as beavers because of their potential impact on farmland, while the Government has said it wants to protect 30% of land for nature.

But wildlife groups say that target includes national parks and other existing protected areas that are not primarily safeguarded for nature, and do not deliver for wildlife.

Ms Batters warned the sustainable farming incentive, payments which the Government hopes 70% of farmers will take up as an environmentally-friendly farming replacement for the EU subsidy regime, will be under-funded.

Ministers recently announced that a third of the total budget for the “environmental land management scheme” (Elms) would go to the sustainable farming incentive, while a third would go to large scale nature schemes including rewilding, and the final third to farm-level wildlife projects.

Ms Batters said: “This country needs a strategy and a clear vision for what we expect from British farming.

“Do we want and expect different things from our land than the rest of the world?

“A pretty park at home while we tuck into imported food produced in extremely intensive ways with huge environmental impact somewhere else.

“Are we turning a blind eye to the impact of global food production while we pursue a domestic vision of a chocolate box countryside?” she asked.

Ms Batters insisted that farming was central to delivering on environmental and climate policies, and criticised the “angry mob” demonising cows – who she said were promoted and supported by companies selling ultra-processed plant-based proteins.

The NFU conference is also set to hear from Environment Secretary George Eustice.

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