In her final new year’s message, Minette Batters highlights farming successes in a challenging year

NFU president Minette Batters

NFU president Minette Batters

Public support for British farming and important government policy wins were heralded by the NFU as two reasons for celebration in what has been an acutely challenging year for the country’s agriculture sector.

In her last new year’s message as president of the English farming union, Minette Batters said that, while it was impossible not to reflect on extreme difficulties growers and farmers faced during 2023, it was important to recognise the industry’s successes too.

Policy victory

Batters singled out the first ever Farm to Fork Summit held at Number 10 last summer as a “landmark achievement”, noting that it was a culmination of over a year’s worth of work and campaigning by the NFU.

“This event secured government commitments to support British farming and protect our domestic food security and concluded with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s recognition that food security should be taken seriously by the government,” she wrote.

Batters pointed to the Precision Breeding Bill and Equipment Theft Bill receiving Royal Assent as two other causes for celebration.

”We campaigned hard on both issues and these bills are important steps forward to help farmers improve their climate-friendly food production and keep their businesses safer from criminals.”

Public support

Batters added that over 27,000 members of the public rallied behind its 2023 campaign with Dr Luke Evans MP to get supermarkets to support British farmers and growers by adding a Buy British Button to their websites, culminating with Morrisons becoming the first supermarket to do so.

“It is heartening to see the public’s recognition and appreciation for the vital work farmers do 365 days of the year to produce climate friendly food, care for livestock, and protect and enhance the environment we all know and love,” Batters wrote. “The British public clearly value our farmers and growers, with 82 per cent being in favour of the government setting food security targets, while 84 per cent think food production targets are either as important or more important than the environmental targets we have current legislation for. I cannot thank the public enough for their support; it has been crucial during the turbulence of the past few years.”

Next-gen farmers

The NFU president continued, outlining the great strides the NFU made in 2023 to engage the country’s younger generation with farming.

“Our TikTok account has reached over 1.4 million people, educating and informing them about the important role farming plays for the nation. Who knew a video on asparagus production could be so successful?” she said.

The NFU’s educational initiatives have reached schools nationwide, with more than 360,000 students across 5,000 schools participating in its Live Lessons where agriculture is used to teach valuable STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) learning, Batters added. And more than 50 farmers visited primary and secondary schools across the country in 2023 as part of the NFU Farmers for Schools ambassador programme.

Long way to go

“All of this said, I am extremely mindful that, as we close 2023 and welcome in a new year, there is still much to do,” Batters added. “Despite the progress made, the government is still a long way behind on its commitments. As a matter of urgency, our national food security must now be embedded into the Sustainable Farming Initiative.

“With 50 per cent of Basic Payment Scheme payments capped, the tapering of payments to 2027 is very concerning for farmers. England is the only country in the G20 to be stepping back from a commitment to produce food and the disparity of payment rates between grassland and arable land must be addressed. Urgent action is needed if we are to get the uptake needed to deliver Defra’s own legislated environmental ambitions. The NFU has always maintained that food production and delivering more for nature and the environment must be treated as two sides of the same coin.

Growth in horticulture

She added: “We also continue to call for government to deliver on its priorities for growth in horticulture, through a well-resourced producer organisation scheme, as well as focusing on policies to drive productivity investment, supply chain fairness and access to skilled labour. 

“Our ambitions are clear,” Batters continued. “Food security must be a top priority for any government and investing in our farming and growing sector is essential for productivity, job creation, and economic and environmental delivery. British farmers and growers provide the raw ingredients for the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, British food and drink is worth more than £128 billion to the national economy.

“This new year, let’s build on the momentum of the public’s unwavering support and forge a path towards a resilient and thriving British agricultural sector so we can continue what we do best – producing great British food.”