Great Yorkshire Show: Farming needs a better government, new PM is warned

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Farming needs a better functioning government at what is a critical time for the industry’s future, the country’s farming union leader has warned.

Meurig Raymond used a speech at the Great Yorkshire Show to make a plea to the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, to give the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) a much more prominent position around in the Cabinet.

Mr Raymond, president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said: “I would make this plea to the Prime Minister, that as we develop a new domestic agricultural policy for the UK, that Defra’s position around that Cabinet table must be elevated and must be given priority, more than the position it has had held around that Cabinet table in recent years.”

The industry is starting with “a blank sheet of paper” as it helps to shape a post-Brexit British agricultural policy, the Pembrokeshire farmer said.

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Mr Raymond was joined at a press conference by farmers from across Yorkshire who represented different farming sectors. They each spoke about the need for certainty within the industry so that farmers can get on with their jobs, and there were calls for British retailers to use this opportunity to offer better backing of the country’s farmers, and to turn away from a reliance on imports. Currently, 40 per cent of food consumed in Britain is imported.

Guy Poskitt, a large-scale vegetable grower near Goole, said securing migrant labour for horticulture was a major issue.

He said: “My challenge to anyone today is, if tomorrow you take immigrant workers out of the supply chain, how much fresh British food would be out on the supermarket shelves the day after? Because I think very little and that’s how much this country relies on migrant labour. We have to lobby government hard to try and get a fair process of having migrant labour without obviously abusing the system.

“We need some sort of system in place like a seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme or visas whereby we can still have these people - I cannot stress enough how important migrant labour is to the horticulture sector.”

On trade, Mr Poskitt said that 73 per cent of British produce is sold into Europe and he said the government must ensure trade with EU member states remained open.

Richard Bramley, an arable farmer from York, said the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy had not worked for his farm since recent reforms, which had put an end to environment-boosting measures on his land.

“Farming in Yorkshire and across the UK goes hand-in-hand with the environment, the two are inseparable and new policy must reflect this,” Mr Bramley said.