What can farmers expect from Farm to Fork Summit 2024? 

The government’s Farm to Fork Summit, held in Downing Street today, is set to present a “significant opportunity” to tackle issues facing UK farmers, as well as the country’s food supply chain. 

The government’s Farm to Fork Summit, held in Downing Street to tackle issues facing farmers and the food supply chain in the UK. 

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee is urging the government to look at five key areas for 2024.  

This includes food security, fairness in the supply chain, future farming policy, labour shortages and the introduction of a tenant farming commissioner. 

Extremely challenging conditions

The committee’s spokesperson said that the impact of the “extremely challenging” weather conditions this season on food security, farmer confidence, and mental health amongst the rural community cannot be ignored.   

They added: “The AHDB has estimated that 15% less land will be planted with wheat this year, and an estimated 558,000 hectares of arable land (12% of the British total) will remain fallow, up from 311,000 hectares last year.  

“Our Food Security and Rural mental health reports outlined these challenges and called on the government to improve food security and to reflect rural communities’ needs in mental health policy, services and national NHS planning.” 

Coherence and strong leadership 

The EFRA Committee added that its 2023 Food Security Report highlighted the need for “coherence and strong leadership on food security”.  

Sir Robert Goodwill, chair of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Its spokesperson said: “Our report examined the availability and affordability of food from household to national levels, noting that a fifth of UK households struggle to access good quality food at reasonable prices, and food price inflation reached levels not seen for some 45 years.  

“It is welcome news to see food inflation fall, but we must be prepared for future shocks to the supply chain. 

“We recently questioned the Department on the annual food security index, what indicators it plans to use to for the index, and how it expects the index to influence policy decisions. 

“We welcome the Department’s assurance that it is discussing these issues with key stakeholders, and that it plans to set out details of the index at the 2024 Farm to Fork Summit.” 

Protecting food production 

The committee has also been supporting the government’s efforts to improve the accessibility and payment rates of the Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs). 

Its spokesperson said: “We welcome the Department’s flexibility in responding to concerns around food security and tenant farmer access, including the 25% cap on non-food producing options within Sustainable Farming Incentive agreements.  

“It is essential that we protect food production, particularly in times of geopolitical and global economic uncertainty.” 

Tenant farming commissioner 

The committee has recently questioned the government on what progress has been made by the tenancy farm forum, and on the outcome of the call for evidence on a tenant farming commissioner.  

A spokesperson said: “We were pleased to see the launch of the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Code of Practice to help foster fairness, communication and good practice between landlords, tenants and agents.  

“However, we urge the government to press forward with the proposed Tenant Farming Commissioner in order to address non-compliance with the new code.” 

Imbalance of power 

The EFRA Committee also speaks out about the “imbalance of power” between farmers, processors and retailers, including claims of bullying in price negotiations. 

“We heard that there is a need for continued government focus on how to ensure greater fairness and risk-sharing throughout food supply chains, including consideration of the merits of extending the scope of the GCA,” its spokesperson concluded. 

Securing nation’s food supplies 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

During today’s summit, 14th May, the Prime Minister is expected to raise the topic of the UK reducing its reliance on overseas fruit and vegetables. 

A new UK Food Security Index will be published today, as the Prime Minister tells British farmers and growers that the government must go further to support them and secure the nation’s food supplies. 

The first draft of the UK Annual Food Security Index will allow the government, industry and farmers to monitor the impacts of external factors, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or extreme adverse weather events. 

This year’s index is set to show that the UK farming sector is at its most productive since records began. 

Backing British farmers 

To help combat the impact of adverse weather, the Prime Minister will set out how the £75 million fund to support internal drainage boards, announced at the NFU conference, will be used to protect agricultural land. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Come rain or shine, I will always back British farmers. From feeding the nation to protecting our countryside, they are vital to the security and the fabric of our country.  

“This package of support will help farmers produce more British food, delivers on our long-term plan to invest in our rural communities, and ensures the very best of our homegrown products end up on our plates.  

“I know for many farmers, the impact of adverse weather in recent months has made working the land even harder, but my message is clear, our support for you is unwavering and we will be with you every step of the way.” 

“This package of support will help farmers produce more British food,” said PM Rishi Sunak. Image credit : Unsplash

The Prime Minister will also announce at the summit: 

  • Up to £3 million towards supporting small and mobile abattoirs to support British farmers.  
  • Delivering on a commitment the government made in our response to the Rock Review into tenant farming and following a call for evidence, confirming that we will appoint a Commissioner for the Tenant Farming Sector (CTFS) this autumn. 
  • A £72 million fund to the Endemics Diseases Scheme, which will help eradicate bovine viral diarrhoea in cattle, control porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome in pigs and tackle a range of different health conditions in sheep. 
  • A £22 million infrastructure grant for laying hens to help poultry farmers to improve the health, welfare and productivity of their flocks. 

Ambitious and workable plan 

Responding to the measures announced ahead of the Farm to Fork Summit 2024, Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president Victoria Vyvyan said: “British food is world-class and produced to some of the highest animal welfare and environmental standards found anywhere, and it is pleasing to see the Prime Minister recognise the importance of food security and growing domestic production.  

CLA president Victoria Vyvyan

“The public expects greater self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetables, and farmers can provide it, but the government must ensure its plan is ambitious and workable. 

“We call on the government to go a step further by developing a robust and bold plan for the rural economy as a whole. The rural economy is 19% less productive than the national average, but closing that gap would add £43bn to national GVA. 

“It is crucial that the role of a tenant farming commissioner is fair and balanced for landlords, agents and tenants. 

“The commissioner must be a well-respected neutral party with a good understanding of the agricultural world, and have the resources to properly assess any cases that reach them.” 

Need for holistic approach

Martin Lines, CEO of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), said: “I welcome this announcement of investment and measures by the government. However, it is vital that a holistic approach is taken to making farming resilient against threats such as climate change and the nature and biodiversity crises. All of these things are linked and cannot be tackled in isolation.

Martin Lines, CEO of NFFN

“The focus on horticulture will help ensure that we are producing more of the food that we are able to produce in this country and reducing our reliance on imports. That is one aspect of food security. However, we need to recognise that food security also includes the restoration of nature to ensure that farms are sustainable and viable into the future.

“This includes making farms weather resilient and preparing them for climate change, which will mean torrential downpours and flooding in winter and high temperatures and long periods of drought in summer.

“We cannot keep applying temporary fixes such as compensation packages to these issues, we need the government to put in place schemes that will support the ambitious agricultural transition that is required.”

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