Farming doesn’t always make the headlines but it is a crucial part of our nation’s future. Put simply, farmers are the backbone of Britain. More than fifty per cent of the food we eat in this country is grown in this country. What’s more, half a million people are employed in agriculture. For Britain to succeed in the years ahead, we need our farms to be strong and successful. So with the harvest season getting going, I’m visiting Devon today with a clear message to farmers in the South West and beyond: my government is on your side.
I know just how tough recent years have been. Floods, droughts, heatwaves, have all taken their toll on people’s livelihoods. Farmers need support more than ever. By this I don’t mean warms words with nothing delivered, and nor do I mean unlimited handouts with nothing expected in return. Instead, this government is putting in place a series of practical steps to make sure that British farming can stand tall in the years to come.
First, we’re going out and banging the drum for British food and drink around the world. The label ‘Made in Britain’ is something to be proud of and we want to see more of it in checkout aisles overseas. That’s why we’re negotiating new trade deals in a number of different countries, such as removing barriers for our beef and lamb in Russia. And we’re also sending our ministers out far and wide from Thailand to Germany to show off our produce. We are seeing results: in just one week earlier this year, Newton Abbot based Westaways flew 43,000 sausages to China and Japan. All in all, our food and drink exports are now worth £18 billion a year. Rest assured this is something we will continue to make a priority so that more farmers can share in the success.
Second, we’re creating new opportunities to earn money back here in Britain. For centuries our farmers have tended the countryside from looking after streams and rivers to protecting wildlife but received no reward for their effort. We’re changing that. At a European level, we are pushing for more of the Common Agricultural Policy to be spent on environment and local community schemes. We want farmers to be compensated for environmental work, in addition to their vital role in producing food. At a national level, we are looking at introducing “conservation credits” so that custodians of the natural world can help developers make good their obligations. And here in the South West, we are funding a scheme to clean up the River Fowey and save local customers money on their bills- by paying people to adopt new farming techniques. Make no mistake – we want to grow the rural economy while improving the natural environment.
Third, we’re turning the UK into a world leader for agricultural technology. This can sometimes sound a little jargon-heavy but the aim is very simple: using the best science to help farmers. The pace of innovation in this area has been breathtaking in the past few years and there are huge opportunities to be grasped, whether it is using technology to bolster crop yields or driving down disease in livestock. In addition, a thriving ‘agri-tech’ sector means more jobs here in Britain. That’s why we recently announced a £160 million boost to help things along the way, and are working closely with business to unlock further investment.
Of course, the countryside is about far more than just farming. And this government is committed to fighting the corner of everyone who lives in rural Britain. Many of you face challenges that rarely cross the mind of city dwellers: access to the internet, poor public transport links and regular flooding to name just a few. These are all issues we are working hard to change for the better, making sure that you are no longer forgotten.
So I’m looking forward to today’s visit. It’s a great chance to speak to farmers about my vision for the industry’s future. And it’s also an opportunity to listen to hear first-hand about what more we still need to do. For centuries farming has been one of this island’s success stories, second to none around the globe. I will do everything I can to keep it that way.
Prime Minister David Cameron contributed this article to the Western Morning News ahead of attending the North Devon Show.