To receive an agricultural sector update from a representative of the NFU.
Mr Andrew Butler attended the meeting (remotely) as a representative from the NFU to provide the Group with an update on the Agricultural Sector. Via a presentation he highlighted the following issues:
· The whole food chain within the UK employed circa 4 million people.
· Supply chains had been severely impacted by the pandemic.
· There had been a significant drop in beef prices.
· The tourism sector had also suffered a significant negative impact.
· In food retail initially there had been a massive increase in demand, particularly in certain products such as ling life milk and flour.
· It had been hard to move from wholesale to retail for some suppliers, different sized products for different consumers. In the early days of the pandemic there had been significant problems about matching supply with the consumer.
· Against the backdrop of high sales of minced beef, the NFU had worked hard to promote the sale of steaks which had been supported by retailers of British products.
· With Brexit there had been a significant change in the trading relationship between framers, the Government and Europe. In the early stages exports had been down 21%. Meat and dairy had been the most complicated products to export in terms of the paperwork. However, in quarter two there had been some recovery and significant efforts had been made to secure deals with the rest of the world, Australia in particular.
· The most major concern was that food was produced at a lower standard in the rest of the world than it was within the UK, this remained a core worry for consumers.
· The Farmers Payment Scheme was due to be phased out by 2027 and this presented a major risk factor for mixed farming going forwards.
Discussion took place with regard to:
· The Agricultural sector had suffered a double hit with both Brexit and the pandemic within the last 18 months.
· Whether there was a possibility of a more local abattoir in order to reduce the transport times of livestock. The costs involved with setting up an abattoir were explained including those in relation to regulation, and vets. The Group were further informed that journey time of livestock with the UK was one of the lowest in Europe. It was not ideal but the system was well controlled and regulated.
· The question was asked as to whether there was anything the Council could do to help the sector. It was explained that within the area of planning the Council could do more to support planning policies and the investment in farming. It could support ‘Buy British’ with its messaging as well as encouraging the public to use the countryside more responsibly.
· The price of land being a barrier to young people wanting to start a farming business. It was explained that different routes could be explored to enter the sector such as shared tenancy / farming.
· Whilst some areas within the sector remained stable in terms of prices there was a great deal of uncertainty moving forwards.
· There had been workforce pressures due the pandemic and these remained.
· Transport issues had also been a significant issue with a need for more lorry drivers transporting all elements of the sector from and to where it needed to be.
· Diversification issues and solar farms being used to produce both renewable energy and livestock grazing.
It was AGREED that a meeting would be set up with the NFU representative and relevant Members and officers to progress the discussion and see what could be done by the Council to support the sector further.
Note: Cllr R Dolley declared a personal interest in that he had connections within the agricultural sector and had worked for a meat production company for 15 years.