NFU column: Farming manifesto gives MPs food for thought
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There may still be a month left until Christmas but the NFU is looking ahead to a crucial date in next year’s calendar – May 7, 2015.
Under the new fixed-term system introduced by the Coalition that’s the date when UK voters are due to go to the polls to elect the next Government.
As NFU Director General Andy Robertson said when he spoke at the NFU Essex centenary event earlier this month, it’s an election that is too close to call. The challenge for an apolitical organisation such as the NFU is to influence whichever party, or parties, make up the new Government to ensure that the key challenges facing agriculture are addressed.
Farming, as well as caring for our beautiful countryside, is the foundation of our country’s largest manufacturing sector: food. Food and farming, together, contribute £97.1billion to the UK’s economy every year. They employ and support more than 3.5 million jobs in the food chain and produce 60% of the nation’s food.
But for farming to flourish and to continue to produce safe, affordable food, farmers need the support of the public to buy our products and the Government to help make farming a long-term, sustainable and profitable industry. We need to encourage our industry to grow. That means it needs investment, innovation and new people to farm the land in the future.
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With that in mind, the NFU has launched its 2015 General Election manifesto, setting out some of the key challenges that farming must overcome if it is to flourish. Some of these challenges are common across all business sectors: the need to invest in equipment and jobs for the future; access to rural broadband and mobile phone signals and legislation and taxation policies that help, rather than hinder, business growth.
Add to these some farming specific issues such as protecting animal and plant health, ensuring that food production is not left behind in research and development terms and providing safe and secure food chains from field to fork, and we have our work cut out to keep agriculture competitive.
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Farming is important to the economy and we want the next Government, whatever its political hue, to join with the industry and make it successful and profitable for the long term.
Between now and the election we will be working closely with our members in Essex and Suffolk to get that message across to Parliamentary candidates, including organising farm visits so they can see what goes on beyond the farmgate.
The challenges are clear – global and domestic demand for food and renewable fuels will only grow as the population grows and eating habits change, but at the same time, pressure for resources such as land and water will increase too. As Sir John Beddington’s ‘perfect storm’ predicted, the world faces an uphill challenge to feed itself and produce energy for its rapidly growing population.
British farmers have a huge role to play at home and in the global economy and we’re raring to go, but what NFU’s manifesto asks for is a supportive Government that can clearly show its commitment to our most essential of industries and help us be the industry that feeds the nation and cares for our countryside.
The NFU Manifesto can be downloaded from the NFU website, www.nfuonline.com
• Adam Scott is NFU County Adviser for Essex