Is the Ministry of Agriculture “living in a parallel universe”?
Do ministers have “no understanding of how food production works”?
The Farmer’s Weekly is disappointed by what the Chancellor announced today:
Last week, NFU President Minette Batters wrote to the Chancellor, providing “a frank assessment of the economic outlook for British agriculture given the significant challenges faced by the sector”:
Minette said that government attention is rightly focused on attempting to resolve the crisis but that, going forward, she sincerely hoped that the government will take the necessary action to prioritise national and global food security. She outlined a number of steps she believes the government can take to enable British farm businesses to maintain their capacity to produce food in the months and years ahead.
- preserving, protecting and prioritising gas supplies for food production and processing
- encouraging and supporting banks to lend to farm businesses
- conducting an urgent review of the current immigration system to ensure Britain’s food producers can access the labour they need
- enacting policies which support farmers to provide nutrients to their crops.
This was followed last week by a scathing attack on the Farming Minister:
NFU president Minette Batters has accused George Eustice of “living in a parallel universe”, after the Defra secretary claimed farmers are recouping cash lost from subsidy cuts via better prices for their produce. The minister has been fiercely criticised for his comments, made on a BBC news bulletin, as farmers face soaring input costs that are wiping out any commodity price improvements and crippling businesses.
This all reflects the dire warnings made at the NFU Conference last month:
Which was covered in the trade press – pretty much across the board:
And the mainstream press has carried the criticism:
On the one hand, the Telegraph spun the news to one side (paywall):
On the other, the New European took things in the other direction:
There’s fear and loathing down on the farm
An angry annual conference of the farmers’ union has revealed the depth to which a sector that voted for Brexit and the Tories feels sold out
The words used by Minette Batters, the newly re-elected president of the NFU, recalled TUC firebrands of the Thatcher era. The Boris Johnson administration, she said, was responsible for “an utter disgrace and a disaster”, with “contradictory government policies” and a “poorly designed change to immigration policy” showing it lacked a “strategy and a clear vision for what we expect from British farming”.
She described farming’s relationship with Defra – whose minister, George Eustice, had an uncomfortable time in their Q&A session – as “fraught”, and asked him to produce “a plan that pre-empts crises rather than repeatedly running into them”. This was powerful stuff…
But leaving aside all the technical reasons for the farming industry’s dismay – trade deals, standards, workers and subsidies – the industry’s real complaint is that the government has abandoned it. The government wants trade deals at any price and immigration controls no matter what the cost. If that means lower food standards, unpicked crops, unfair competition for its own industries, so be it. Farmers are being told to like it or lump it, something they have never experienced before.