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Making the regional case for food

PUBLISHED: 09:23 30 March 2011 | UPDATED: 09:33 30 March 2011

Clarke Willis, chief executive of Anglia Farmers

Clarke Willis, chief executive of Anglia Farmers

Archant

Food and farming in the east of England is worth an estimated £8bn a year to the economy, employing more than 14,000 alone in Norfolk, according to official figures.

The industry spans from cutting-edge biotech innovation at the John Innes Centre to micro-breweries creating ales from locally-grown barley.

In the region we have the UK’s salad bowl in the Fens, British Sugar proces-sing beet into sugar, ethanol and an increa-singly diverse range of products and bi-product across the county is now being converted into energy through biofuel or anaerobic digestors.

But despite the breadth of the industry, there is still a perceived lack of understanding of our food and where it comes from.

Which is why buying group Anglia Farmers, which supports 1,700 members and 700 associate members covering 520,000 plus hectares of land, is supporting the Food and Farming Excellence Award in the 2011 EDP Business Awards.

Its chief executive, Clarke Willis, is particularly passionate about the sector.

“I have a real concern people don’t understand food and where it comes from,” he said.

“The challenge that we have got is that what goes on our plate is from across the world. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, we just need to understand it in terms of energy consumption and water use. We also need to highlight regional production of food.

“We need to show the excellence we have got, in some cases world class. If you look at the number of people in the region involved in the region it’s massive. It includes the specialist farm shops, individuals who make hand-made chocolates and from farmers’ markets to supermarkets.

“It’s not just about local niche products, it’s also the Bernard Matthews of the world, the massive amounts of pork we produce, a lot outside and with incredibly high welfare standards, I think. People don’t necessarily understand that.

“We are obviously a massive part of the world in sugar beet. Over the last three decades consumption of sugar has not decreased. Potatoes we grow are made into chips but also starch. We are a large producer of vegetables such as carrots and parsnips.

“There is a presumption of the farmer with straw in his mouth leaning on a fence with a few cows, abit of crop and chickens. The reality is you couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s still a way of life, it’s not a nine-to-five job. These are custodians of the countryside.”

However, Mr Willis is aware of the challenges facing the industry – not least the ability to meet demand from a growing world population at a time when people pay more for water than for milk.

To enter the Food and Farming Excellence Award go to www.edp24.co.uk/businessawards

elaine.maslin@archant.co.uk

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