Norfolk Farming Conference 2018: Defra minister George Eustice outlines the opportunities for the region's farms

PUBLISHED: 06:15 01 February 2018 | UPDATED: 17:54 01 February 2018

Farming minister George Eustice speaking at the 2016 Norfolk Farming Conference. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Farming minister George Eustice speaking at the 2016 Norfolk Farming Conference. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2016

Hundreds of farmers will gather in Norwich today to debate their industry's challenges at the Norfolk Farming Conference. Here, government farming minister GEORGE EUSTICE, the keynote speaker, writes for the EDP to explain why Norfolk is pivotal to the UK's future food production.

The world’s population is growing and millions more people need to be fed. By 2050, global food demand is expected to have risen by some 60pc.

Britain should be well-placed to take advantage of consumer needs both at home and overseas – with Norfolk leading the way in high-quality food production.

The UK is renowned for its science and technical know-how in agriculture. The East of England is particularly noted as a hub of agricultural innovation. The government envisages that farmers in this region will play a key role in improving the profitability of our industry as we leave the EU and replace the dysfunctional CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] with a better domestic policy, tailored to our needs, that delivers for both agriculture and the environment and enhances farm animal welfare.

At the Norfolk Farming Conference today I will be outlining how I think we can improve farm profitability by encouraging more collaborative models in industry, whether it’s farmers coming together to invest in plant breeding and research and development, or whether it’s more integrated supply chain models to help improve margins and share risk more fairly.

We believe a great deal can be achieved by promoting a cooperative ethos along supply chains, identifying ways for farmers, manufacturers and retailers to work together in greater harmony. This will lead to more effective planning and better investment, faster decision-making, greater efficiencies and increased profitability all round.

Take the great work of Anglia Farmers (AF). This major farm-level buying group helps farmers get good deals on energy and produce such as animal feed, through the power of collective purchasing. With 3,500 members, AF is the largest agricultural purchasing group in the UK and a terrific example of how collaboration can benefit everyone along the supply chain.

Then there’s NFU Sugar, which works closely with British Sugar to negotiate contractual terms on behalf of all sugar beet growers. East Anglia is home to some of the country’s most productive sugar beet growers, in a sector which provides a successful case study of the benefits of cooperation. These particular contract terms use “value-sharing agreements” which pay market-linked bonuses to growers when global sugar prices are high. When profits are passed on to the producer in this way, a competitive, successful sugar beet industry can continue to flourish.

Other organisations, too, have seized the opportunities available to reward productive farmers. McDonald’s, who are also attending today’s Norfolk Farming Conference, have launched a Farm Forward initiative that helps farmers raise welfare standards, make the kind of environmentally-friendly improvements that we want to encourage throughout the sector, and support knowledge-sharing with farming communities.

Elveden Estate, in the centre of East Anglia’s arable heartlands, is one of McDonald’s flagship farms and a model of high environmental standards. It supplies over 7,500 tonnes of potatoes each year to McCain, which produces McDonald’s French fries, and is a leading supporter of the Red Tractor Assurance Scheme.

This commitment to greater collaboration should also help share scientific knowledge with the farmers who can apply it at grass roots level. We are exploring how to get businesses working more closely with research projects, through the creation of new research and development syndicates to support genetic improvement and increase profitability.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the East of England is leading the way in many of these areas. It is thanks in part to the forward thinking of groups such as Camgrain, and generations of farmers keen to adopt best practice. As we prepare to leave the EU, we want to encourage more high-quality, sustainably sourced food across the country – helping ensure the UK enhances its reputation as one of the most internationally competitive countries in the world when it comes to food production. We can be sure that East Anglian farmers will be at the forefront of these efforts.

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