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Norfolk Farming Conference highlights growth and energy opportunities

PUBLISHED: 09:10 22 February 2013 | UPDATED: 15:24 22 February 2013

The annual Norfolk Farming Conference. Speaker George Lyon MEP. Picture: Denise Bradley

The annual Norfolk Farming Conference. Speaker George Lyon MEP. Picture: Denise Bradley

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Farming can deliver growth and jobs, produce world-class quality food and drive the “engine of renewable energy,” delegates at the Norfolk Farming Conference were told.

One third of the country’s farms have invested in renewable energy, Adam Quinney, vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union told about 400 delegates at the John Innes Centre on Norwich Research Park yesterday.

Farmers in Britain are in the forefront of the low carbon growth economy and can make a major contribution to energy production. And only days after the government highlighted the looming energy crisis, Mr Quinney said the countryside could be the “engine room for new, green farming”.

“Given the right policies and signals from government, the NFU believes that farming could deliver up to 25pc of Britain’s renewable energy needs in the coming decades,” he said. “And Norfolk farmers have got a massive potential also to produce energy, too,” he added.

Key Whitehall departments Defra and Decc (Department for Climate Change) must recognise the full potential of land-based renewable energy production, he told the conference, organised by buying group Anglia Farmers.

In an upbeat message, he said farming had invested in solar power, the most popular technology, followed by wind turbines, and then other forms of bio-energy. And given the backing, farmers could produce more, he said.

“The NFU’s aspiration is for every farmer to be a clean, energy exporter,” said West Midlands arable and livestock farmer Mr Quinney, who joined the NFU’s top table a year ago.

But it needed strategic direction from government to support planning policies and provide access to energy distribution networks, which could help to deliver progress on the ground, he said. “Our industry is well placed to help to create jobs and economic growth in 2013 and further become a major energy supplier,” he added.

“Against a backdrop of volatile inputs and commodity prices, renewed concerns about food and energy security, we need fresh policies and true commitment.”

In Norfolk, 3,500 farm businesses occupy about 75pc of the land area of about 400,000 hectares or one million acres and directly employ about 12,000 people producing food. And nine per cent of the country’s poultry holdings and 12pc of pig enterprises are based in Norfolk, he said.

While the High Street has been shrinking, the farming sector is actually bucking that trend and making a major contribution to economic growth.

“I’m sure that the record number of students choosing to study agriculture at our colleges and universities up and down the country share my enthusiasm,” he added.

Farming had been more productive and profitable in the last five years although last year had been particularly difficult. “However, the total value of UK agricultural output stands at £24bn – that’s a 60pc increase since 2008.

“It certainly was not suggestive of an industry in decline in anyone’s book. We’re part of a multi-billion pound industry and food chain. For every £1 farming contributes to the UK economy our food manufacturers and wholesalers contribute a further £5. UK shoppers spend more than £170bn on food and drink products each year and, collectively, the food sector accounts for nearly 14pc of the nation’s workforce,” said Mr Quinney. He also backed further investment into science, as delegates could see the building work on a major expansion of research facilities at the JIC.

“This is where it is important of having a science framework in the UK to back productive agriculture and horticulture to deliver growth at home and success abroad and ensuring that every single penny spent on research and development is put to good use,” he added.

Mr Quinney said that there was already a big gap between farmers in Norfolk and Germany. For example, a 100-hectare farm in Germany would receive £36,000 in CAP payments but in Norfolk it was just £26,000. “That is just not right,” he added.

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