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NFU to launch 'biggest consultation in a generation' on Brexit farm policy

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NFU president Meurig Raymond
NFU president Meurig Raymond

The NFU is launching an-industry wide consultation on the formulation of a domestic agricultural policy, following the decision of the UK to leave the EU.

 

NFU president Meurig Raymond described the forthcoming consultation, which the union hopes to have completed by September, as the ’biggest farming consultation in England and Wales for a generation’.

 

The announcement followed a ’spirited debate’ at today’s extraordinary NFU council meeting in London, attended by 90 farmers on the union’s ruling body drawn from across England and Wales and across the farming sectors.

 

At this stage the council has agreed some basic principles on which to build a domestic policy, including demands for the ’best possible access’ to the EU market and ensuring support given to UK farmers is on a par with that received in the EU.

 

NFU President Meurig Raymond said the Government must not ignore the economic importance of the farming sector, describing it as ’the bedrock of the UK’s largest manufacturing industry, food and drink, worth £108 billion’.

 

The industry employs 3.9million people, he pointed out.

 

Consultation

 

Mr Raymond said: “NFU Council has today agreed the principles of a domestic farming policy which will now form the basis of the biggest farming consultation in England and Wales for a generation.

 

“Currently there are lots of uncertainties for farming – trade agreements, labour, financial support, legislation are all up in the air – but the NFU is committed to providing this industry with leadership.

 

"The NFU will consult its members, in every sector, in every county, to ensure that its members have a say in shaping the future of farming for them, their children and their grandchildren and for Britain’s children and grandchildren.

 

"I urge all NFU members to get involved in this consultation over the coming months and that non-members should join the NFU to ensure their voice is heard.

 

"With this consultation, we can be sure that the policy we push for will have the backing of the farming sector at large.

 

“The contribution of this country’s farming and food industry to the economy and to food security should be taken extremely seriously by the UK government.

 

"We need a policy that ensures a profitable, productive and sustainable future for British farming. The NFU’s influence, with the backing of its membership, is paramount in this.”

 

Sufficient resources

 

When it comes to future farm support, Mr Raymond stressed the NFU’s key principle was that British farmers should not be disadvantaged against their EU competitors, for example in Ireland and France.

 

But he stressed the NFU was open-minded about how the support was paid and, if a better system than the current area-based payments could be found, the NFU would back it.

 

NFU vice president Guy Smith said it was vital Defra and other parts of Government responsible for the negotiations were given sufficient resources and expertise to deliver coherent policies.

 

He said this issue was raised repeatedly during the council debate.

 

Mr Smith said: "As you repatriate policy and delivery and trade negotiations from Brussels back to Whitehall, Whitehall has to ask itself whether they have they got enough resource and expertise to meet that challenge.

 

"To my mind, they can’t do at the moment. They have existing resource but how can that possibly fit the requirements of the future.

 

"For forty years now, the main driver for ag policy has been Brussels. It is now going back to Whitehall and Whitehall needs to be ready for that."

 

 

NFU principles of a new farm policy

The agreed principles from NFU Council are:

 

  • We must get the best possible access to markets in the rest of Europe. Although we will not be a member of the EU, it will still be our major trading partner for the foreseeable future
  • Currently we benefit from more than 50 trade agreements with countries in the rest of the world. We will continue to need these kind of arrangements in future, whether this means negotiating new deals or not
  • A key question we had to the Leave camp, and on which we never received a clear answer, was what kind of access would an independent UK give to imports from the rest of the world? Our requirement is that we are not open to imports which are produced to lower standards.
  • During the referendum we have repeatedly drawn attention to our sector’s need for access to migrant labour, both seasonal and full-time. Outside the EU we will need some kind of student agricultural workers scheme, which is open to students from around the world.
  • Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to build a new domestic agricultural policy which is adapted to our needs, easy to understand and simple to administer. We will be looking for guarantees that the support given to our farmers is on a par with that given to farmers in the EU, who will still be our principal competitors.
  • We will want to see a rural development policy which focuses on enhancing our competitiveness. Britain has been a pioneer in agri-environmental schemes, but these are currently running out of steam- in part because of over prescriptive EU rules. We must take this opportunity to devise better schemes.
  • If there was one message which came over loud and clear in all our farmer meetings it was frustration with European regulation and its handling of product approvals, due to an over-politicised approach and excessive use of the precautionary principle. We now have a golden opportunity to ensure our arrangements are in future proportionate and based on sound science.

 

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