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UK Farm to Fork summit 2024: EFRA Chair outlines priorities for 2024

13 May 2024

Ahead of the Government’s Farm to Fork summit in Downing Street tomorrow, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has set out its priorities and key areas of concern for the agricultural and food supply sector, which it believes the Government should seek to address in 2024.

The statement below, draws together insights from the Committee’s recent work and ongoing inquiries.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee welcomes the Government’s second Farm to Fork Summit. The Summit presents a significant opportunity to tackle issues facing farmers and the food supply chain and to ensure that farmers and associated industries are provided with the support they need to thrive.

Our Food Security report, published in 2023, called for the Government’s UK Food Security Report to be published annually, alongside an annual food security summit chaired by the Prime Minister. We welcome, therefore, the second annual summit and the Department’s recent commitment to publish an annual food security index.

Planting conditions have been extremely challenging this season due to the prolonged wet weather. The AHDB has estimated that 15% less land will be planted with wheat this year, and an estimated 558,000 hectares of arable land (12% of the British total) will remain fallow, up from 311,000 hectares last year. The adverse impact on food security, farmer confidence, and mental health amongst the rural community cannot be ignored. Our Food Security and Rural mental health reports outlined these challenges and called on the Government to improve food security and to reflect rural communities’ needs in mental health policy, services and national NHS planning.

The Government should seek to address issues in the following areas in 2024:

1. Food security and the Annual Food Security Index

Our 2023 Food Security report highlighted the need for policy coherence and strong leadership on food security. Our report examined the availability and affordability of food from household to national levels, noting that a fifth of UK households struggle to access good quality food at reasonable prices, and food price inflation reached levels not seen for some 45 years. It is welcome news to see food inflation fall, but we must be prepared for future shocks to the supply chain.

We recently questioned the Department on the annual food security index, what indicators it plans to use to for the index, and how it expects the index to influence policy decisions.

We welcome the Department’s assurance that it is discussing these issues with key stakeholders, and that it plans to set out details of the index at the 2024 Farm to Fork Summit. At the National Farmers Union conference, the Prime Minister committed to placing the publication of the index on a statutory footing when parliamentary time allows. We urge the Government to ensure this happens as soon as possible.

2. Future farming policy

We support the Government’s efforts to improve the accessibility and payment rates of the Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs). We welcome the Department’s flexibility in responding to concerns around food security and tenant farmer access, including the 25% cap on non-food producing options within Sustainable Farming Incentive agreements. It is essential that we protect food production, particularly in times of geopolitical and global economic uncertainty.

Furthermore, the Government has yet to clearly set out its strategy for land use to help manage trade-offs between environmental recovery and food security. There is a need for the Government to provide clear leadership through publishing the Land Use Framework as soon as possible. We urge the Department to be aware of the impact of further changes to these schemes in terms of long-term stakeholder planning and confidence.

Furthermore, as we set out in our 2023 Soil Health Report, the environmental goals of ELMs are uncertain and the current “pick and mix” approach may not deliver the long-term changes needed. We therefore called for more robust targets and monitoring for soil health and proposed that Government and industry develop a shared understanding of sustainable soil management in different contexts. By 2030, this could enable a better structure for ELMs and regulatory protections for soils, as long as these changes are communicated well in advance, to give farmers time to prepare.

3. Government response to the Shropshire review

Our 2022 Labour shortages report concluded that labour shortages have badly affected the food and farming industry - threatening food security and the mental health of those working in the sector. Given the acute labour shortages in many agri-food sectors including poultry and horticulture, we welcome the Government’s response to John Shropshire’s labour shortages in the food supply chain review and we will explore the implications of this further during our ongoing land-based education and careers inquiry.

The workforce challenges faced by the agricultural sector, and addressing these will require a coherent and effective alignment of farming, education and immigration policy.

4. Decision on Tenant Farming Commissioner

Around one-third of farmland in England is tenanted and tenant farmers play a crucial role in delivering food production and environmental results.

Last year we heard from Baroness Kate Rock, Chair of the Rock Review into the agricultural tenanted sector. We recently questioned the Department on what progress has been made by the tenancy farm forum, and on the outcome of the call for evidence on a tenant farming commissioner. We were pleased to see the launch of the Agricultural Landlord and Tenant Code of Practice to help foster fairness, communication and good practice between landlords, tenants and agents. However, we urge the Government to press forward with the proposed Tenant Farming Commissioner in order to address non-compliance with the new code.

5. Fairness in the Food Supply Chain

During our ongoing Fairness in the food supply chain inquiry, we have taken evidence regarding the imbalance of power between farmers and processors and retailers, including claims of bullying in price negotiations.

We heard that the introduction of the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) has helped remove some of the worst abuses in the supply chain and have noted other steps the Government is taking to attempt to improve fairness in food supply chain through powers under the Agriculture Act.

We heard that there is a need for continued Government focus on how to ensure greater fairness and risk-sharing throughout food supply chains, including consideration of the merits of extending the scope of the GCA.
We plan to report on this inquiry in the summer.

Further information

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