An annual, UK-wide, food security index unveiled by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at this year’s NFU Conference was welcomed by outgoing president Minette Batters as “significant’.

The Prime Minister’s address – the first since Gordon Brown took to the stage in 2008 – began with a tribute to Ms Batters’ “forceful” leadership during a tumultuous time for farmers and included a pledge to the audience that he had “got your back”.

Mr Sunak pledged that “every penny” of the £2.4 billion farming budget would go to agriculture and referred to the myriad of grant schemes available, expected to total £427 million in the current financial year, making it the largest ever grant offer for farmers.

While noting that the grant announcements did not represent ‘new money’, Ms Batters welcomed the Prime Minister’s high profile show of support for the industry and was particularly pleased to see his commitment to an annual food security index, which follows sustained pressure from the NFU on the subject.

The NFU’s food security campaign saw more than 45,000 members of the public join the call for the Government to take action. Moving from the original five year index to an annual update would, Ms Batter said, “allow us to monitor the situation, see if we have a problem and do something about it.”

The Prime Minister also confirmed that the Farm to Fork Summit will be held annually and announced a £15 million fund to help tackle food waste by enabling farmers to redistribute surplus food that cannot be used commercially at the farm gate.

In a nod to the upcoming general election, Ms Batters said she hoped “all parties commit to hosting a domestic food security summit each year”.

She also raised the issue of imports of food produced to lower standards than in the UK, one of the main drivers behind the ongoing farmer protests in Dover (see page 5).

“Commitment to core standards will also be key,” she said. “We have to implement core standards that will mean our negotiators will have a clear mandate on which to negotiate these trade deals. That has to happen.” In another successful campaign, the NFU saw more than one million people sign a petition aimed at preventing imports of food produced in ways that would be illegal in the UK.

A significant week for the NFU and its high profile president also saw new legislation laid before Parliament that will tackle unfair practices and abuses of power in the dairy supply chain, something that was raised by the union’s SoS Dairy Campaign more than a decade ago.

The NFU welcomed the breakthrough, pointing out:  “In response to ongoing campaigning by the UK farming unions, the government held an industry-wide consultation in 2020 which found unfair practices within the supply chain linked to buyers having the power to set and modify the terms of a contract with no negotiation with the producer and little notification.

“The new regulations, a commitment set out at the Prime Minister’s Farm to Fork Summit last year, will establish transparency and accountability across the dairy supply chain by stopping contract changes being imposed without agreement. There will also be a system in place to enable farmers to verify the calculation of variable prices.

“The regulations also include an enforcement regime, backed up by the ability for the Secretary of State to impose substantial financial penalties in respect of any breaches.” Similar legislation is to be introduced for the pig and egg sectors.

Other highlights of Mr Sunak’s speech were a commitment to provide around £220m for future-focused technology and productivity schemes to increase automation and fund energy measures such as rooftop solar – a figure that more than doubles last year’s figure of £91m – and a doubling of the management payment for SFI schemes which will mean an extra £1,000 this April for those on existing agreements.