Defra Secretary Michael Gove said he remains optimistic about the future for UK farming despite a number of high profile farmers quitting the industry due to uncertainty over Brexit.
The Secretary of State was responding to comments made by Yorkshire NFU chairman Rachel Hallos who told today’s (April 30) Health and Harmony consultation event three farmers ‘at the top of their game’ had pulled out of red meat production.
She pointed to a lack of clarity on future trade deals and concerns over how a reduction in farm support might impact on businesses’ obligations to the environment.
“People are coming out of beef and sheep because they cannot see a way forward,” Ms Hallos told the joint NFU/Defra event in Coventry.
When questioned by Farmers Guardian later on this issue, Mr Gove said he ‘preferred to be optimistic about the future’ adding his department’s consultation process had shown the industry was ‘engaged’ and committed to finding new opportunities to grow and sell more, both at home and abroad.
Mr Gove said: “There are particular sectors [under pressure]; hill farmers and those who are affected by the domestic demand for sheep meat being progressively lower over time.
“It is our responsibility in Defra to try to make sure we do everything we can both to ensure the domestic market is there but also to ensure there are new export markets for our high quality produce.
“But we always keep under review the support we put in place so that we can have a thriving farm sector.”
Upland producer Richard Tudor, Powys, recently announced he would sell his 120 beef suckler cows and 1,200-strong sheep flock and plans to move into dairy next year.
Paul Williams of Cae Haidd, Llanwrst, Conwy, cited a lack of clarity on future trade deals, declining lamb consumption and poor return from labour invested as reasons behind his imminent departure from sheep production – a move that breaks 150 years of family tradition.
Ms Hallos said another large farmer in Northumberland was also halting sheep production.
Addressing Mr Gove, Yorkshire lowland farmer Rosey Dunn urged caution over targeting support to upland producers at the expense of others, highlighting the ‘integrated’ nature of farming and each sector’s reliance on one another.
Reacting to Defra non-executive board member Ben Goldsmith’s attack on Red Tractor standards, Michael Gove hinted changes could be made to assurance schemes in the future.
‘Red Tractor standards are way too low’ - Read the full interview with Ben Goldsmith here
Mr Gove said: “I think the Red Tractor standards are great, but I also think there is an opportunity - as we leave the European Union - to look at all the labelling we have in order to make sure the high quality produce that British farmers are responsible for gets the recognition it deserves.
“The key thing is to make sure we work with the industry to make sure there is a clearer and better public understanding of the high standards farmers maintain and believe in."
* The Government’s Health and Harmony consultation on the future British agricultural policy closes on May 8. You can have your say here