Greater resilience and sustainability provide opportunities for UK agrisupply sectors

Improving business resilience, sustainability, and seizing trade opportunities for the UK’s agri-food supply industry were the main talking points among expert speakers at this year’s Agribusiness conference, which was held online for the first time on 11 November 2020. 

The conference, which was delivered by UK trade association the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) which represents the agrisupply industry, reflected on the challenges and opportunities faced by the sector, including the critical importance of the sector in the delivery of food to the public during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Victoria Prentice MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Defra, took to the virtual stage, to discuss how removing the ‘comfort blanket of the Common Agricultural Policy’ and adopting a new approach to agricultural funding, with a focus on environmental sustainability, would support farm productivity and profitability in the longer term.

She said: “We have heard your call for an open partnership and have engaged fully with the AIC’s Sustainability Roadmap. By working together, we can take forward the opportunities that you have identified. Your commitment to ongoing investment will be crucial to improving profitability, while at the same time making the adaptations that we need to avert climate change.”

NFU President Minette Batters raised the sector’s concerns for increased friction in the trade of agri-food products with no confirmed EU trade deal in place less than two months until the end of the transition period. However, she called Britain “Lazy exporters,” explaining that building the British farming brand and investing in how we trade would help to open up new markets.

Ms Batters also urged the Government to ensure that the new ELMS scheme is an enticing platform for farmers to base their businesses on, and that the delivery of this scheme is properly piloted and tested before implementation in 2024.

The Right Hon. Lord Deben, chair of the committee on Climate Change, highlighted the uncertainties faced by farmers, who are dealing with an increase in volatile weather events, as a direct consequence of climate change.

“Our farming methods will have to change,” he stressed, explaining that agriculture will have to increase its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, as significant soil sequestration will be required to mitigate emissions elsewhere.

“Net zero does not mean double counting by agriculture,” he warned. “New tree planting cannot count towards the farming sector’s own carbon emissions reduction. They are part of the total emission reduction. The industry must make additional reductions in emissions to reduce its own carbon footprint.”

And Nicholas Saphir, chair of AHDB, pointed to the ability of UK agribusiness to be competitive, and how the productivity gap between the best and worst farmers can be narrowed by better use of benchmarking and data: “Farm success requires good agronomy and business acumen. The best farmers make more [money], the worst do not,” he said. “We need to drive unnecessary costs out of the system.”

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