The Royal Norfolk Show 2017: A Dutch perspective on the future of East Anglian farming

The Royal Norfolk Show 2017: Tim Heddema, an agricultural counsellor from the Dutch embassy.

The Royal Norfolk Show 2017: Tim Heddema, an agricultural counsellor from the Dutch embassy. - Credit: Archant

An international visitor praised the Royal Norfolk Show for bringing together farming, research and consumers – and he hopes the government will take a similar approach to its post-EU policy-making.

Tim Heddema is the agricultural counsellor at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in London, working to promote Dutch farming products and policies.

He said the role was re-established following last summer's EU referendum vote, which brought a 'new necessity' to preserve the strong trading and cultural partnerships between the Netherlands and the UK.

'We need to find new friends, but we want to keep our old ones,' he said, adding that Brexit was causing as much uncertainty in the Netherlands as it is in the UK, with traders concerned about the possibility of extra customs procedures or import tariffs.

'After Brexit, you will become our biggest third-country export destination outside Europe,' said Mr Heddema.

'Until we get that trade deal, we don't know what will happen, so there is a lot of uncertainty, especially for fresh produce and horticulture. Some traders already find it difficult to arrange new deals because the British partners are uncertain about what will happen, and they are hesitant to engage in long-term partnerships.'

Mr Heddema said he was impressed by the 'enthusiasm and willingness' of science and agri-tech innovators at the show's Innovation Hub, and he believes it is crucial for the UK's new domestic farming policy to fund the research that will drive future productivity – as well as putting the consumer's food needs at the heart of policy-making.

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'We can help each other to find a sustainable way to increase production,' he said. 'The UK wants to increase productivity, but the important thing is not just writing it into policy, but making sure science and research feeds into it.

'We are quite good at that in the Netherlands. We are very proud of our 'Golden Triangle' of co-operation between government, industry and research.

'You have the opportunity now to build a new domestic agricultural policy. You should make sure you have access to the funding for research and I hope we will still have the opportunity to work together on that.

'But it is also about food for every citizen. It should be a food policy rather than an agricultural policy.

'It is not just there to support farmers, it is there cover the whole food chain. So if you want a more sustainable policy you need to think from more of a consumer perspective. The policy should be more consumer-oriented and more focused on agri-environment and animal welfare and tackling unfair trading practices and making sure children have a healthy diet. It is not just saying: 'Here we have a bag of money for you, Mr Farmer'.'

Mr Heddema said the Royal Norfolk Show was an 'impressive showcase' of UK agriculture and culture.

'We have nothing like this in the Netherlands,' he said. 'I think it brings daily life and daily farming together.

'What I will remember is the pride that everyone has in their industry around here. I can tell everybody in the embassy to visit shows like this and see what people think about their profession.'