Back British Farming Day: Our farmers are facing a perfect storm of uncertainty

Daniel Zeichner
© Chris McAndrew/CC BY 3.0

British farmers are facing a perfect storm of uncertainty this Back British Farming Day. From reduced farm payments, to being undermined in new trade deals and worker shortages leading to supply chain issues, the farming sector badly needs a government that is on their side. But this Conservative government has demonstrated it does not have farmers’ backs, breaking promises made at the last election in a triple betrayal that makes Tory MPs and ministers pinning on wheatsheaf badges today a hollow gesture.

It is the Labour Party that stands foursquare behind our farmers and food producers with our campaign to buy, make, and sell more across Britain. And today, as part of our plan, we are calling for public bodies to buy more British food all year round. This would be achieved by a Labour government asking every public body to give more contracts to British firms and also passing legislation requiring them to report on how much they are buying from domestic sources with taxpayers’ money.

As set out this July by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves this plan would support our economy recover from the pandemic. This will include British farmers and food producers, who need and deserve our support now and in the coming years. Existing initiatives such as the Cabinet Office switching from Dutch to English bacon, but only for British Food Fortnight, are tokenistic and simply not ambitious enough.

In contrast with Labour’s support, the UK-Australia trade deal Boris Johnson’s government negotiated has sold out British farming just as it has failed the British fishing industry – leaving our farmers vulnerable to being undermined by agricultural imports from overseas that are produced to lower standards. Labour backed farmers and demanded the government did not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in this and other trade deals. But as with so many of Johnson’s pledges, this Conservative manifesto commitment has proved to be insincere.

While farm payments are being cut, there are no plans for replacement payments being available until 2022 with the new environmental payment schemes still being designed, tested and piloted. As today’s National Audit Office report reveals, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has failed to gain farmers’ trust with very low take-up and has still not even got agreed objectives for the new schemes.

Labour Party analysis from earlier this year found that rural England stands to lose more than £255m this year alone as payments are cut before the new schemes are in place. The move could risk as many as 9,500 agricultural jobs. That is why Labour is calling for the government to urgently review its plans, or smaller family farms that are struggling will be at risk of going out of business entirely.

Worker shortages in the food supply chain continue to cause significant issues leading to many crops wasting on fields, gaps on supermarket shelves and shortages at popular food and dining outlets. Workers including crop pickers and meat factory workers as well as lorry drivers are missing in large numbers from key sections of our food supply-chain workforce. Pig and poultry farmers are facing a particularly acute crisis. Birds and pigs are backed up on farms with the animals at risk of simply being destroyed and wasted if they can no longer be kept in good welfare conditions.

These failures are why using today to grab photo opportunities with wheatsheaf badges is just more shameless hypocrisy from this Prime Minister while he oversees the Conservatives’ triple betrayal of farmers and rural communities. Labour backs British farming today and every day of the year, and would ensure the rural economy thrives and reaches its full potential.

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