Scott Mann is the Conservative MP for North Cornwall.
The NFU is this week hosting its annual conference. As always, it is an important moment in the year which provides the opportunity for the agricultural sector and farmers from across the country, including a significant number from my constituency in North Cornwall, to come together to discuss challenges and opportunities for the sector.
But never has this conference been more important than this year. Alongside fishing, there is no industry that will be affected more by our withdrawal from the EU than the agricultural and sector.
Farming matters to everyone and the impact of our agricultural sector goes far beyond farming; it benefits all those businesses in our British supply-chain, and the small businesses in our rural economy who are supported by the sector.
The NFU has today published a report which for the first time provides a detailed analysis of agriculture’s economic contribution. We already know the vast number of people who rely on the sector for employment, particularly in rural constituencies like my own.
Farming is at the heart of our food and drink sector. On the ground we have 300,000 people growing food, who in turn support nearly four million people employed in the British food and drink sector which in itself produces more than £100 billion for the economy every year.
But this report demonstrates the unprecedented return on investment the sector provides for the Government. For every pound invested in the agricultural sector, a staggering £7.40 is returned to the UK economy.
From this evidence we can see it is now even more important to make sure farming succeeds. We cannot take the industry for granted and we must make it better and stronger out of the EU and away from the Brussels bureaucrats. If our farmers succeed, the UK will grow and prosper.
Our withdrawal from the EU presents a golden opportunity for the agricultural sector. We can create our own domestic agricultural policy which works for our British farmers as well as for our environment.
Initially under the CAP, farmers were encouraged to intensify farming even as the butter mountains and wine lakes built up. This harmed our environment which can take decades to reverse, and although we do have initiatives in place to address that, such as the Agri-Environment Schemes, they have not properly helped the resurgence of wildlife.
Therefore when implementing our own policy, the cutting of red tape and cross compliance does need to be balanced with safeguards for the environment which were not possible under the EU’s one-size-fits-all policy. In fact looking back on our time in the EU, it’s quite staggering that the EU adopted that approach when you have countries which are hugely different in terms of their geography and agriculture.
I’m extremely ambitious about the farming sector’s resilience and its ability to grow rapidly over the coming years, exporting our world-class produce to every corner of the world.
UK agriculture already provides 60 per cent of all the food on our tables. But the potential to improve our self-sufficiency has never been more apparent.
For the sector to succeed and to increase its economic contribution, we need to ensure that agriculture is a priority throughout EU negotiations. This means securing the best possible access to EU markets while gaining access to global markets which have been inaccessible as a member of the EU.
Our farming sector has come a long way in the past century. Two world wars pushed it to its limits as it battled to feed our soldiers on the front line as well as the millions back home. It was brought to near collapse in the 1920s and ’30s. However, it made a resurgence in the latter half of the 20th Century while increasingly having its hands tied by Brussels.
That will soon be over, though, and an independent Britain will inherit a strong farming sector which can still go from strength to strength. That means making sure it has the skills, man-power, investment, technology and government and public support that it needs to grow and prosper.