Opinion

NFU has gotten its principles all wrong

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is at least one ‘principle’ short, if my reading of the organisation’s latest Brexit demands is anything to go by.

And it’s a very simple one, encapsulated in the very direct question: Where’s the money?

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson gave the game away, courtesy of his recent speech to the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP’s) annual conference in Belfast.

On two occasions during his presentation he made it perfectly clear that the UK will be seeking trade deals with countries around the world that will help ensure a copious supply of cheap food for the direct benefit of British consumers.

One thing British farmers can’t do is produce cheap food. But the farming sector has an amazing track record in producing food of the highest quality. And this comes at a price.

Consumers can’t have it every way. If they want wholesome food with full traceability, they will have to pay for it. This can happen in one of two ways: either through the till at the supermarket; or courtesy of the tax monies allocated to support production agriculture.

The retailers will always act to ensure that they are seen as purveyors of cheap food. This then leaves the farm support route as the option to guarantee the future sustainability of agriculture in the UK.

Clearly, this is a message that must be delivered by the NFU to Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Secretary Michael Gove MP. And the clock is ticking.

I have always had a problem with the fact that the department of government, which deals directly with farmers, does not have the word ‘agriculture’ in its title.

This state-of-affairs has always left me with the impression that Westminster does not put production agriculture high up its list of strategic priorities.

It’s interesting that political developments of recent weeks have brought the issue of food security to the fore as a clear media focus. Dare I suggest that the NFU use this opportunity to ram home the clear message that farmers must be supported effectively in a post-Brexit world?

And simply accepting a finding package that might be on a par with what’s available from the EU at the present time isn’t good enough.

Given the challenges coming down the track for British agriculture, the future funding levels made available to the industry must be at least a clear measure beyond where we are at the moment. Put it this way, a combination of Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US could flood the UK with cheap food of all sorts in a heartbeat.

Given the potential impact of this scenario, farming in the UK will need all the support it can muster from Whitehall.