Ms Truss said that falling prices were due to lower global commodity prices but she said that she believed the long-term future of the sector was positive due to the large global demand for dairy products.
In a wide-ranging speech to more than 70 delegates, Ms Truss also said she would meet the supermarkets to see what more they could do to support British food and farming.
Responding to claims that the dairy sector had been suffering from low prices for the past 20 years, Ms Truss said the sector had been beset by long-term problems such as BSE and bovine TB, but claimed that other sectors had overcome challenges. “The poultry sector is 85 per cent self-sufficient, is competitive and is successful. We need to learn lessons from them,” she said.
There was also anger at the lack of intervention by the Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon. Richard Haddock, Churston beef farmer and chair of the Conservative Rural Affairs Group, said he had no confidence in her and that the Voluntary Code needed to be replaced with something more legally robust.
Ms Truss said rural business was central to the nation’s economy, adding that it was worth £211bn - larger than the combined value of the car and aerospace industries. Food was one of the largest areas of growth.
She singled out Newton-Abbot based Westaways, which she visited earlier in the day. The company has 35 staff making around 250,000 sausages every day for both the domestic and export markets, including Barbados, Japan and most recently China.
And she urged more producers to follow Westcountry Beef and Lamb in seeking and securing Protected Geographical Indication accreditation.
She said she was keen to reduce the dependency on imports for products that were easily grown or produced in this country, “We import two thirds of our apples, nine tenths of our pears and two thirds of our cheese. The cheese figure is particularly startling. We need to understand what the barriers are selling to manufacturers and how we can help the industry to thrive through buying and selling locally.”
Responding to calls from Mr Haddock and John Sheaves, Chief Executive of the regional food group Taste of the West, for greater support for the network of English food groups, Ms Truss said she would be open to working with them to set up a conference to look at enhancing exports and greater promotion across domestic markets.
Mr Sheaves told FG that Taste of the West was looking to “piggby-back” on current supply chains to export a range of quality products to Holland, Germany and Belgium.
Ms Truss said the Government was doing much to support the rural economy including: