Machinery suppliers, feed merchants, retailers, farm accountants, agricultural colleges, banks and many others who benefit from a strong and profitable food and farming sector came together to lend their support to the NFU’s lobbying work on behalf of the industry.
The meeting was chaired by Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton and chairman of the Efra select committee, who said it was vital the agricultural and food sector spoke with one voice to make sure it was ‘fit for the new world’ that Brexit would bring.
“It is important that we come together like this to help us formulate a positive vision of the future which we can present to policymakers, to remind them food and farming must be at the centre of all we do,” he said.
Mr Parish added that it was likely an agriculture bill would be put before parliament during the summer of 2018 and that although the industry might have to face being “weaned off” direct subsidy support, he believed this transition process could take up to ten years.
Other speakers included Rich Clothier of Somerset cheesemaker Wyke Farms, which processes 300 million litres of milk every year and exports 3,000 tonnes of cheddar, 75 per cent of it to the European Union.
Mr Clothier said his business would be unable to survive without migrant labour and talked about the importance of “adopting a global export mind-set” as striking trade deals would be an essential part of making Brexit a success.
“The success of Brexit will be judged by what trade we gain. We have been promised some things and we need trade deals. We can’t muddle through, we need a plan,” he said.
Keith Ockenden, commercial director of Mole Valley Farmers, said it was important agriculture did not become a ‘sacrificial lamb’ when negotiating trade deals.
“If we don’t manage change it’s going to be a question of survival of the fittest, but there are lots of factors that will influence who survives. We have found there is a lot people can do to control costs and manage the way they buy feed, fertiliser and other inputs.”
Other speakers included Dr Phil Le Grice, principal of Bicton College, who outlined the need for renewed investment in research and development, and training for the next generation of agricultural workers. He said the industry should consider ‘radical partnerships’ with innovative high-tech businesses in cities like Exeter and Bristol, which may have little direct experience of agriculture but could still offer valuable insights that farmers could use.
Melanie Squires, NFU South West regional director, said she hoped the event would enable businesses right along the supply chain to work together during what were crucial times for the agri-food industry.
“If this event shows us one thing, it is that we are much stronger together than we are apart and I hope this will be the beginning of a process which will see us all pulling together to help get the outcome our industry deserves, helping to maintain the wider businesses and all the jobs they support” she said.
“I hope all the businesses will now get in contact with their MPs and let them know how much rests on getting a good Brexit deal for agriculture.”
Royal Bath & West of England Society CEO, Rupert Cox added “The encouragement and improvement of agriculture has been at the centre of The Society’s activities since its foundation in 1777, and that mission is as true to day as it was 240 years ago. Our continuing drive to support British agriculture aligns wonderfully with the NFU’s Backing British Agriculture campaign and we are delighted to be a part of it.”