NFU leader Peter Kendall wants government to back key farming sector

Nene Potatoes opening, Long Sutton, David Hoyles, chairman and Peter Kendall

Nene Potatoes opening, Long Sutton, David Hoyles, chairman and Peter Kendall - Credit: Submitted

Farmers' leader Peter Kendall wants government to put agriculture at the heart of economic policy.

Whitehall and ministers must set a national agricultural strategy, which could drive economic growth of one of the country's key industries.

Mr Kendall, who stands down in six weeks after eight years as president of the National Farmers' Union, said that the Republic of Ireland had grasped that strategic imperative. He had been disappointed by the lack of action on many fronts including the much-heralded bonfire of red tape.

While the agricultural industry's role was starting to be appreciated, he suggested that senior levels in many government departments still had not really grasped the opportunity or understood the potential.

Mr Kendall said that government recognised that food production was more important. 'When Margaret Beckett was Defra secretary, then we were told that we didn't need to produce food because we were park keepers. That was a pretty soul-destroying starting point,' he said.

'Over the years we have seen that producing food, producing high-quality food, is becoming more and more important,' said Mr Kendall, who said that he had no plans to take up politics after standing down.

He had been impressed that a group of Kent farmers had put a value on their county's total agricultural production. 'They have calculated that the total output would be equivalent to the 57th highest ranking company in the FTSE by the sheer output of production.'

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He said that he still struggled to get Treasury to understand the mportance of food production, jobs and the impact on the whole economy.

'We as an industry produce the raw materials for the biggest manufacturing sector in the economy – 3.6m jobs are based around the whole food industry. t is the biggest manufacturing sector, so trying to get people to understand our contribution to the whole economy is vital.'

'Farmers are up for the challenge. We want to be growing businesses. We want to be creating jobs and that is something I find really hard to get over to government and to the public that we do a fantastic job as farmers.

'We've got more young people coming into agricultural colleges than we've seen for a long time. When I go to Harper Adams University, they tell me that they've got a waiting list of people wanting get involved whether it is helping to manage our farms or running these sort of operations or even maybe working for de retailers with an understanding of what producing the crop actually entails.'

'We've also had some success as an industry trying to big up the provenance,' he added.

Mr Kendall welcomed remarks by Defra's Owen Paterson to bang the drum for buying British food but took him to task because the House of Commons was not sourcing enough home-grown food. 'We know that the public sector's £2bn spend is a fantastic opportunity. At the same time that Mr Paterson is saying back British, which we welcome and applaud and we want it right across food service and government departments, where we can and if we can provide the right quality,' he added.

'We put an enormous amount of effort to make sure that food arrives in great quality. I think that together we have a great story to tell. Whether on the backlash of 'Horsegate' and I do think that it was happening before but consumers do want to know more about where their food comes from. The more we can brag about that our story I think our future will be brighter,' said Mr Kendall.

He said that farmers had put their hands in their pockets to invest for the future and the long-term which is always great to see.'