Earlier this year Defra launched a plan of how the UK can grow more, buy more and sell more British food. Cedric Porter asked five experts for their views on the plan’s seven main points.
Defra aim: Strengthening the British brand to ensure our quality produce is celebrated both at home and abroad.
In a global commodity market we have to identify what makes British produce special. Provenance and sustainability could be important selling points along with assurance, so we need to highlight schemes such as Red Tractor and Leaf more.
David Sheppard, managing director of Gleadell and chairman of the AIC Arable Marketing Group:
British grain has built up a good reputation for quality over time, with buyers valuing our assurance schemes. But we are still in a period of rebuilding markets after the very poor quality harvest of 2012.
Demonstrating widespread domestic take-up of British food is critical to strengthening the British brand. Defra must take a more joined up approach with other Government departments to give UK agricultural production the same recognition other business and trade export sectors receive.
Dr Tina Barsby, chief executive officer, NIAB:
British crop science is recognised around the world as being at the cutting edge in all areas from breeding and production through to processing. More does need to be done to highlight the excellence of our research and development.
There is a large and fast growing demand for organic produce around the world and British produce has a reputation for high quality and standards. At the moment most British organic exports are for premium products, but there will be longer term opportunities for grain and other products.
Potato growers have become very efficient, but we continue to import large quantities of potatoes and potato products
Defra aim: Increasing exports to ensure British products are enjoyed by even more countries across the world.
To succeed in export markets the UK, must be competitive. Currently, the complex EU regulatory environment places excessive burden and cost on industry. It is not ‘no regulation’ but ‘smart regulation’ – a message which came from 40+ organisations in our Food Supply in the Balance report.
Continued support of industry via long term programmes, including extending the term of the Agri-Tech strategy, is also a crucial part of building both competitiveness and export confidence.
This year’s large harvest means we will have large stocks available to export in a year where there are large worldwide stocks, but there will be an opportunity to replace feed grain imports, especially maize, with domestic wheat and barley.
We are good in exporting our science, perhaps sometimes too good in that other countries can benefit from our research before we can. An example of this is the development of blight-resistant potatoes which was carried out in British institutions, but is being commercialised in America. However, this is not an argument for stopping investment in British research.
The Soil Association has a trade team developing links with overseas importers, but the export market is similar to the domestic one in that growers need to have an understanding as to what the market wants and delivering that by working with a trusted processor or retailer. There is a great example of organic oat farmers doing that to the benefit of the whole supply chain.
It is not just a question of increasing exports, but also one of reducing imports. In the potato sector growers have become very efficient, but we still import large volumes of fresh potatoes and potato products.
Defra aim: Breaking down barriers to trade which will enable budding food entrepreneurs to unleash their full potential and access new markets.
What is exciting are the marketing barriers which have been broken down by social media which allows farmers to interact with their customers more directly and often.
Access to capital as well as the time and cost required to meet regulatory requirements are the main barriers to entry for new companies. The Government’s Agri-Tech strategy catalyst fund has begun to address the funding aspect, however, at present this is just a five-year programme and the complexity of applying has deterred some.
Defra aim: Increasing procurement of British produce including in schools and hospitals.
Systems need to be developed which allow farmers or groups of farmers to respond to demand for local produce.
Not only would buying UK-grown produce support the local, rural economy, it would also wave the flag for the strength and value of the British brand.
This year's big harvest means there will be large stocks available for export
Defra aim: Attracting investment into the industry
Defra aim: Boosting skills and apprenticeships to ensure the industry has the confidence and capacity to meet the growing demand for British produce.
Defra aim: Increasing productivity through innovation, research and development and sharing data.