NFU deputy president Minette Batters urges Norfolk farmers to help change industry perceptions

NFU deputy president Minette Batters

NFU deputy president Minette Batters - Credit: Submitted

A senior industry figure has encouraged Norfolk farmers to play their part in forcing a change of governmental focus on how agriculture is perceived in this country.

Minette Batters, deputy president of the National Farmers' Union, (NFU), met local farming representatives and Defra secretary Elizabeth Truss during her visit to the Royal Norfolk Show on Wednesday.

She said she had told the cabinet minister of her frustration that the British representation at the recent Feeding the Planet expo in Milan had focused too much on countryside stewardship, rather than the economic value of food production.

Mrs Batters said the government's 25-year strategy for food and farming offered an opportunity to inspire an image change for the industry – and individual farmers could help with that effort.

'For me, going to Milan was a bit of a slap in the face as to the challenge we have got,' she said. 'All the other stands were highlighting the economic value of food production.

'In Argentina, it was all about GM (genetically-modified food) and plant breeding, and new developments, but with us it was all about wildflowers and pollinators. There was no reference to food and no tie-up with production.

'I did say I was very disappointed with the stand, and she (Ms Truss) said she shared our frustration. There is potential that we could be working much closer with government, and we have got a real opportunity on the back of this food and farming strategy to get the government completely refocused.

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'Farmers are the custodians of the land and they are the ones who are going to drive food production and technology, so having the focus on food has to be the way forward, rather than having this awful mish-mash where they are not joined up.

'Here we are in Norfolk, where absolutely everything happens. We have got sugar, pigs, chicken and potatoes, we have got the whole lot happening for the economy and the benefit of it to our GDP (gross domestic product) is huge.

Mrs Batters said public engagement on farms could be a powerful medium for that message.

'The farming community is very polite and often very silent,' she said. 'We will talk to each other and have a moan about what is not working. But our political representatives are there to hold the government to account, and they are paid to do that.

'So individual farmers can make the case to their MP. We are doing some phenomenal stuff in Norfolk, in particular in how technology has changed things. But we are not doing enough to publicise that, so we need to be engaging with people out on farms to say what we are doing. You cannot put a price on that.'