OPINION: Farmers should seek new markets closer to home, says Norfolk NFU chairman Tony Bambridge

Norfolk NFU chairman Tony Bambridge, managing director of B&C Farming at Marsham. Picture: Brian Fin

Norfolk NFU chairman Tony Bambridge, managing director of B&C Farming at Marsham. Picture: Brian Finnerty / NFU - Credit: Brian Finnerty / NFU

Brexit could bring opportunities overseas, but future farming success may lie closer to home, says TONY BAMBRIDGE Norfolk county chairman of the National Farmers' Union.

The crops now being planted and the livestock now being conceived may well be marketed after we have left the EU, so where does that leave Norfolk's farmers?

Much is spoken about exports to far-flung countries in a global trade extravaganza. Farmers have been encouraged to consider exports to China, trading high-quality food products to developed states and building new alliances with any number of countries.

Others expound the virtues of continued business with our near neighbours in Europe, building on the close trading relationships that have been created and overcoming the potential of a fettered trade.

However, I firmly believe that, for the overwhelming majority of farmers, the focus has to be clearly on our home market. That market is the easiest, and probably most lucrative, to supply and one that, if lost, would be the most damaging to all concerned.

We have in excess of 60 million people, who all need food. That's 65 billion meals per year. We have the mills, maltings, processors and manufacturers of food and meal solutions that all need raw ingredients. The best place to get them is as locally as possible and from someone within your own legal, social and national border.

There may be attractions to take farm produce from far-away producers. However, currency risks, differences in production standard, exporting environmental responsibility and global emission concerns should curtail such aspirations.

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Now, more than at any time, I feel farmers should seek out those markets where we identify the actual customer who has a specific need of our farm products. Our produce needs to be delivered with their specifications in mind and targeted at their requirements.

We need, wherever possible, to be a name and an entity with that customer, meeting them and keeping in contact. In essence, we farmers need to become marketeers as well.

There is a window of opportunity. A weak pound is making imports expensive and food and farming, and its future, are in the news and therefore in people's minds. We should all strike while the iron is hot and cement our foundations in supply chains and supply arrangements to our home markets.

Drilling, planting and breeding in hope of a future economically viable market is something I feel has a significant risk. Planned and targeted production to a known customer will always have a better chance of success, especially now.