Farmers are key workers on the front line of the global pandemic
Whether feeding the nation, protecting the natural world, or contributing to global Britain, Britain’s farmers are ready to deliver
As the global pandemic hit, farmers were faced with a monumental challenge to keep food supplies flowing, supermarket shelves full and a nation fed. Not heroes like the amazing staff and volunteers within the NHS, but key workers on the front line during a global pandemic.
Farming has a proud tradition of producing safe, traceable and affordable food for the nation, alongside caring for our precious environment for all to enjoy. Britain’s farmers rose to the challenges of Covid and we saw the appreciation of the British public for those efforts.
Public support for farming has reached a record high according to a One Poll survey; over half a million people have signed up to the NFU’s Back British Farming campaign while high profile petitions about the importance of British farming standards received over a million signatures.
Equally, it’s been fantastic to see so many MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum actively supporting Britain’s farmers and growers; helping to put food and farming at the forefront of activity in Westminster. As we enter 2021 this support is more important than ever.
Now we are out of the EU, implementing our own agriculture policy for the first time in decades and looking to cement trade deals with other countries, there has never been a more important time to understand and support the crucial role British farming plays in our nation’s health, wealth and well-being.
We start with our own domestic agriculture policy. This means a shift in the way farming will be supported, with renewed focus on sustainable farming. Farmers and growers stand ready to work with government to ensure the new Environmental Land Management scheme is fit for purpose, supporting food production, while valuing the part farmers play in protecting and enhancing our environment and delivering public goods.
British farming remains the lifeblood of our rural communities and is the bedrock of Britain’s largest manufacturing sector, food and drink. This sector is worth around £120bn nationally, employing almost four million people.
There has never been a more important time to understand and support the crucial role British farming plays in our nation’s health, wealth and well-being
Our farmed landscape is what makes the British countryside so iconic, attracting millions of visitors who freely use the 225,000km of public rights of way network. Generations of farmers have worked the land while protecting and enhancing our rural landscapes, providing the centrepiece for tourism worth more than £21bn.
They will always strive to leave their farm in a better condition for the next generation of farmers, whether that’s through maintaining the 411,000km of hedgerows on farmland or the half a million ponds that provide habitat for wildlife.
One of the biggest challenges we continue to face is climate change. With COP26 in Glasgow this year, now is the time to demonstrate that we are committed to being global leaders in climate-friendly food. The NFU already has an ambition for British farming to be net zero by 2040 and there are thousands of examples of farmers working sustainably, managing livestock pastures to absorb carbon, producing renewable energy and farming smarter to reduce emissions. Farmers have worked to ensure emissions from UK beef production are half that of the global average, and they stand ready to help deliver the government’s own net zero goal of 2050.
When it comes to Britain’s place on the global stage, maintaining tariff-free access to the markets of our nearest neighbours was crucial, with food and drink exports to the EU worth £14.5bn. As the UK continues negotiating trade deals with other countries, we now have a golden opportunity to lead and expand the iconic British brand around the globe.
This year will be pivotal for us all. British agriculture can and wants to be at the forefront of government’s vision for global Britain. Whether it’s helping to put more British food on our plates, exporting more of our high quality, highly desirable food abroad, protecting and enhancing our iconic British countryside or playing our part to tackle climate change, we stand ready to work with parliamentarians of all parties to achieve our joint ambitions.
Minette Batters is president of the NFU