Current News 23-06-22

  • Written by Andrew Davis
  • Posted on Jun 23, 2022
  • Articles

National Food Strategy

The Government published the National Food Strategy last week, its response to Henry Dimbleby’s report of last year.  It has been welcomed by farmers as it gives priority to food production, but criticised by conservationists for much the same reason.  There is a broad commitment to maintain current levels of food production overall and to expand areas where there is opportunity, notably horticulture and seafood.  However, there is very little detailed policy of how the objectives might be achieved.

Fruit and Veg Rotting

In a direct contradiction to the Government’s aim to expand fruit and vegetable production, vast areas of existing crops are left to rot in the field and end up ploughed in because of the lack of labour for harvest.  Before Brexit, most pickers came for EU countries but freedom of movement was cancelled by Brexit.  Many of the vacancies were then filled by Ukrainians but they are now at home fighting Russians.  Recruitment agencies have now turned further east, to Nepal, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan but numbers are inadequate.  The Government’s seasonal workers scheme is limited to 30,000, now extended to 40,000, but that is still less than half the requirement.  The British berry industry is worth around £1.7 billion in the shops.  In 2019, fruit worth some £12.4 million was left unpicked, rising to £18.7 million in 2020 and £36 million last year.  It is expected to be far higher again this year.  Meantime, more fruit is imported.  This is a national disgrace.

ELMS Funding

In its Farming Blog published just before the National Food Strategy, Defra has changed its priorities for funding for the Environmental Land Management Scheme.  In a policy paper in January, funding was to be split equally between the three tiers of the scheme, the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery.  Now the proportion for Landscape Recovery has been reduced to £50 for the three years to 2028.  Conservationists have described this as a betrayal but the move allows more investment in the other two tiers and fits the change in priority to food production.

The Future of Natural England

There has been discussion about the executive agencies of Defra, the Environment Agency and Natural England amongst them.  This is part of the campaign led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, which includes scrapping all EU directives in British law within three years and reducing the size of Government.  One of the suggestions is to scrap Natural England and bring its remit with Defra itself.  George Eustice is said to be resisting the proposals egged on by conservationists who fear that they will weaken environmental and wildlife protection.