Defra Secretary Liz Truss has laid out her arguments as to why UK farmers would be better off remaining in the EU.
Mrs Truss, who finds herself on the opposite side of the Brexit debate to Farming Minister George Eustice, told the NFU conference a vote to leave the EU in June would be a ’leap into the dark’.
She highlighted the difficulties the UK faced in negotiating trade deals with China and, for beef, the US, and urged farmers not to take the benefits of access to the single market for granted.
She also stressed the potential difficulties farmers would face in the form of reduced trade tariffs farmers outside the EU.
Asked about the likelihood a future UK Government would retain farm support at current levels outside the EU, she said this was one of the ’unknowns’ that would have to be thrashed out after the vote.
She said: "I believe that by voting to remain we can work within a reformed EU to reduce bureaucracy and secure further reform while still enjoying the significant benefits of the single market which gives us access to 500 million customers.
"We are able to export our high quality products freely without the trade barriers we deal with elsewhere and with a say in the rules.
"At a time of severe price volatility and global market uncertainty, I believe it would be wrong to take a leap in the dark.
"The years of complication and risk caused by negotiating withdrawal would be a distraction from our efforts to build a world-leading food and farming industry that brings jobs and growth to Britain."
Mrs Truss said Prime Minister David Cameron’s new settlement with the EU had secured the UK the ’best of both worlds’.
“I believe we would be stronger, safer and better off in a reformed Europe but ultimately it will be for the British people to decide.”
Mrs Truss announced an expansion of the TB advisory service, alongside the roll out of badger culling to new areas in England.
The advisory service is currently limited to the South West but Mrs Truss told the NFU conference the service would be made available ’throughout the high risk and edge areas’.
Defra will be funding the expansion of the service, which the NFU has been calling for, with rural development funding.
Mrs Truss said Defra’s 25-year TB strategy was ’making real progress’. "We’re on course to declare half of England TB-free by 2019," she said.
The Norfolk MP received her biggest round of applause when she praised the efforts farmers involved in the three English badger cull areas and reiterated her commitment to role the policy out more widely.
The success of the TB strategy was 'in large part due to the efforts of farmers who have gone out night after night, often in the face of blatant intimidation, to make the badger cull a success'', she said.
"Thanks to them, all three culls - in Dorset, Gloucestershire and Somerset - met their targets in 2015. It is these farmers who are giving hope to a whole industry.
"But this is no time to ease off. I want to see culling expanded across a wider number of areas this year. The Chief Veterinary Officer’s advice is that this is the only way to secure the full benefits of our comprehensive strategy.
"Whatever our opponents may say, we know we are doing the right thing. We are pursuing a strategy that has worked in Australia and is working in Ireland and New Zealand.
"We will not rest until we have eradicated this devastating disease."
NFU president Meurig Raymond praised Mrs Truss for her efforts on 'getting culling off the ground', which he said had been achieved in partnership with the NFU.
He also thanked those 'on the ground' in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset for making the 2015 culling programme 'safe, humane and effective'.
"You are the true heroes of the farming community. On behalf of all livestock farmers - thank-you."
With 28 further areas having already registered an interest in obtaining cull licences, he said:
"So let us see wider roll out and let’s see it this year. And next year, let's move away from isolated pockets, let's see culling across wide swathes of our most infected areas."
Moving onto Wales, Mr Raymond said the Welsh Government 'must now realise that no eradication plan is worth the paper it is written on without acceptance the disease must be eradicated from wildlife as well as from cattle'.
He said badger vaccination, now on hold in Wales, was 'never going to eradicate the disease'.