Tuesday 14th May 2024

(1 week, 5 days ago)

Written Statements
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Steve Barclay Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Steve Barclay)
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Today the Prime Minister will host the second UK Farm to Fork summit alongside Government Ministers at No.10 Downing Street, recognising the crucial importance of the farming and food sector. The annual event will bring together representatives from across the supply chain to discuss some of the key challenges and growth opportunities that lie ahead, reaffirming our plans to bolster food security and support a resilient and profitable food and farming sector. The event will build on the progress made since last year’s successful summit, including work to embed fairness in supply chains, investment to unlock innovative new technologies, cutting unnecessary red tape and boosting exports of our great British food.

Despite the challenges farmers have faced in recent months, with the wettest 18 months on record in England, as well as the impacts of covid and the war in Ukraine, food businesses have continued to put food on our plates, day in, day out. The summit therefore reflects the crucial importance of the farming and food sector to our nation and provides an opportunity to explore how to turbocharge the sector as an engine for growth. To coincide with the event, the Government have set out a new package of measures to boost food security and support domestic production. This includes plans to:

Boost the production of UK fruit and vegetables. Today we have published a draft of the first ever UK food security index, which will allow us to monitor short-term trends across the UK. It complements the three-yearly UK food security report which focuses on longer-term trends. Alongside the index, we have published our blueprint for growing the UK fruit and vegetable sector, which aims to boost production of fresh produce and reduce reliance on imports. This is backed by our new horticulture resilience and growth offer, through which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will look to double to £80 million the amount of funding given to horticulture businesses when compared to the EU legacy fruit and vegetable aid scheme, which will be replaced from 2026 onwards. An improved, comprehensive, and simplified offer will recognise the producer organisation model, while at the same time bringing individual businesses within scope for support, with up to £10 million being made available to help orchard growers access the equipment, technology and infrastructure they need to produce more great British fruit.

Provide further support for farmers affected by the recent wet weather. Building on our commitment to extend the farming recovery fund to support farmers who have been flooded, temporary adjustments will be made for farmers and land managers where the wet weather has led to difficulties carrying out the requirements of our environmental land management schemes. Next week we will be setting out the detail of the £75 million fund to support internal drainage boards to accelerate recovery from the winter 2023-24 storms, and provide opportunities to modernise and upgrade assets that support resilience for farms and rural communities.

Invest in innovation to help our food system to be even more productive and resilient, thanks to British science. We have responded to the Shropshire review, ensuring that the sector has the labour it needs and funding to support greater automation in the sector. This includes extending the seasonal visa route for five years (2025 to 29), with 43,000 visas available for horticulture and 2,000 for poultry in 2025 to address immediate need. We will agree a taper for this period with industry, supporting them to transition away from migrant workers by increasing by up to £50 million the existing support for agri-innovation available from within the farming innovation budget. We are also unlocking the opportunities of gene editing, with a £15 million investment into genetic improvement networks, helping to boost access to more resilient crop varieties that require fewer inputs, and to cut farmer costs. We will launch a new endemic disease scheme, with over £80 million of funding, and create an infrastructure grant for laying hens, with over £20 million of funding, as part of the animal health and welfare pathway.

Grasp opportunities to add value at all stages of the supply chain. That includes supporting farmers to get a fair price for their products by announcing the next steps in the supply chain reviews for eggs, fresh produce and pigs. In all three sectors, we are introducing legislation to enhance fairness and transparency. We are also appointing the new supply chain adjudicator, Richard Thompson, who will focus on ensuring that fairness in the supply chain is effectively enforced, and making up to £3 million in support available for new and mobile abattoirs through the farming investment fund. This builds on the small abattoir fund, which opened last year to boost the sustainability and efficiency of smaller red meat and poultry abattoirs across England. We will also remove the 16-week derogation period for the labelling of free-range eggs produced by hens that are under mandatory housing orders due to avian influenza. And we are confirming the appointment of a commissioner for the tenant farming sector, delivering on a commitment in our response to the Rock review. The commissioner will provide a neutral, confidential point of contact, and advice for tenants, landlords and advisors who have concerns about poor behaviour.

Support the next generation of farmers and workers within the food system, helping to build a high-skilled workforce that attracts the best domestic minds. We are already collaborating with the Food and Drink Sector Council on how to make the sector more attractive to the next generation. We will further improve awareness of job opportunities and career paths through the development of regional recruitment strategies, reviewing the current education and skills offerings in the food supply chain, and creating a public facing workforce data product for the food supply chain.

Fulfilling the Prime Minister’s priority to turbocharge the farming and food sector as an engine for growth, the Government will continue to work hand in hand with the industry to champion UK food and drink, both at home and abroad, helping the food supply chain to grow, manufacture and sell more British food. A new DEFRA-chaired senior officials food leadership group will bring together Whitehall Departments to help drive progress.