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Farming adds £8.6 billion to the UK's economy NFU conference hears

By WMNPBowern  |  Posted: February 26, 2014

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Britain’s farming sector has defied the recession in recent years by contributing an additional £8.6 billion to the UK economy, according to research published today.

The study was released this morning as outgoing National Farmers’ Union president Peter Kendall welcomes delegates to today’s National Farmers’ Union conference with a call to politicians to back science-based support for agriculture.

The research shows UK agriculture’s contribution to the economy increased by 54% between 2007 and 2012.

The report, entitled Backing the Business of British Farming, also claims that food and drink is now the UK’s fourth-largest export sector, having grown by 2.5% in the first half of 2013.

Speaking ahead of the event, Mr Kendall said: “The achievements shown in this report prove that farming has been delivering for Britain’s economy despite the challenges thrown at us over the past couple of years – heavy rain, drought, unseasonable snow and in recent weeks we have all seen the impacts of flooding across the country.

“We are growing businesses. We are creating jobs. If the Government is looking for a sector to kick-start growth and rebalance the economy then they should start by looking at agriculture.”

The report found agriculture contributed £8.6bn more to the UK economy between 2008 and 2012 than it did from 2003 to 2007.

The two-day NFU conference, at Birmingham’s International Conference Centre, takes business as its theme and features speakers from politics, food retailing and international finance.

Mr Kendall, who is standing down after the conference following eight years leading the union, welcomes political guests Owen Paterson, Defra Secretary of State, and George Eustice, Farming Minister and MP for Camborne and Redruth, to the event.

He describes the political support for the badger cull thus far as ‘superb’ but warns: “It is just as vital that ministers battle for science-based decision-making on crop protection products as well as delivery on better regulation.”

Mr Kendall, who has been credited with bringing a new confidence to farming during his tenure as NFU president, has also faced criticism, as an east of England ‘barley baron’, for allegedly failing to take the concerns of Westcountry livestock farmers seriously enough.

In a critical description of Mr Kendall’s reign, prominent Devon farmer and former NFU national livestock chairman Richard Haddock pulls no punches.

“Peter Kendall has succeeded in pulling the last remaining teeth the NFU had. Dissenters and innovators have been eased out of positions of influence and power to be replaced by compliant placemen,” he says.

“The NFU has also ceased to have any relevance for hundreds of farmers because the traffic has all been one way. Their views are never listened to or acted on. All they get is a constant stream of policy decisions, taken remotely by people who rarely have any real experience of local conditions.”

Mr Haddock goes on: “The NFU has also failed, miserably, to move with the times. It offers nothing to the thousands of farmers who have been obliged to diversify to stay in business because inaction by the NFU has allowed commodity prices to remain at ruinously low levels in historic terms.”

But Mr Kendall, who will be replaced after the end of the conference tomorrow by either the current deputy, Meurig Raymond, or vice-president Adam Quinney following a vote by the NFU Council, defends his record this week in the farming press.

He tells Farmers Guardian: “I think I have been unbelievably lucky. The industry is in a better place thanks to exchange rates, commodity price spikes but also, I think, because the NFU has been prepared to stick to its relentlessly upbeat message.”

In Farmers Weekly, Mr Kendall points to rising numbers of students studying for jobs in farming. “I hope that is because we haven’t been moaning but telling people this is an exciting, hi-tech and innovative industry.”

Among the speakers at the conference are Justin King, the chief executive of Sainsbury’s, and global financial investor Jim Rogers, whose presence is seen as underlining the tremendous future farming has as a successful business feeding the fast-growing global population.

Mr Kendall said he is particularly keen to hear from the Government’s new chief scientist, Mark Walport. “He will give his first high-profile speech specifically on farming. After being in the news recently for his comments on climate change [urging climate change deniers to ‘give in’] his words at conference will be eagerly awaited.

“The recent floods experienced by so many areas of the country have devastated farm businesses. Farming and food production should not be granted the lowest priority when it comes to flood management.”

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8 comments

  • Charlespk  |  February 26 2014, 8:06PM

    All it proves is that farmers are maintaining the fabric and the landscape that is Great Britain for nothing.

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  • Charlespk  |  February 26 2014, 8:03PM

    So Samantha Stillington you think, that we can do without the miserly £8.6 billion that farming ads to the economy. (so presumably we can just close down all the farms) . Well I think you have just demonstrated that there should be an IQ test to qualify to vote in our democracy. . Farms ARE the majority of this country!!!!

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  • Free2opine  |  February 26 2014, 9:22AM

    Nick, no you obviously didn't read it. Also, not all foreign aid is monetary in fact a lot of the foreign aid "bill" is provided in goods and services. Incidentally, I am against most of the monetary side of foreign aid and yes, if you want to be picky, some of this additional £8.6 billion contribution (on top of the original profits the farmers were making for this country) will be going into this pot.

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  • nickthompson  |  February 26 2014, 8:20AM

    Free2opine: Sorry, I thought the headline read "Farming adds £8.6 billion to the UK's economy, and that the term UK economy meant our countries money pot, and that governments of all colours dipped into that pot to pay for a host of services, foreign aid being one.

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  • Free2opine  |  February 26 2014, 7:18AM

    nick......The food going out as foreign aid will not be included in this ADDITIONAL £8.6 billion. Farming, if you read this article correctly, is the 4th largest exporter and this figure is growing. They are CREATING jobs unlike many other sectors, which means they will also be cutting down the benefits budget.

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  • nickthompson  |  February 26 2014, 7:00AM

    8.6 billion, well done guys, our government need only to add 31.4 million and they have enough to send abroad, as foreign aid!

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  • Free2opine  |  February 25 2014, 2:28PM

    The vast majority of farmers, do not belong to the NFU, just as many thousands of workers, in other businesses, do not belong to unions! Farming does not revolve around badgers or protest groups, it revolves around producing food, for not only the population in this country, but, also other countries. This may of course come as a complete surprise to many, as many people seem to believe that food grows in shelves at the supermarkets!!!!!

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  • Clued-Up  |  February 25 2014, 11:34AM

    Haddock's view that the NFU is run by autocrats with no respect for democratic principles and out of touch with their membership's real concerns seems well-founded. You can see the same behaviour at work in the NFU Council's badger cull project. The NFU membership weren't allowed to vote on whether they supported the slaughter of Britain's legally protected, second favourite wild animal even though the NFU leadership must have known how unpopular and controversial their badger vendetta would be. Also, did the NFU membership even get a chance to vote on whether they wanted THEIR MONEY to bail out the badger cull companies / participating landowners? Around half the badgers killed were cage-trapped, an approach the NFU described as simply "unaffordable" before the cull started. The NFU has admitted in print that it's funded a proportion of badger cull's extra costs; the donation must have been considerable.

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