Food Security

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:14 pm on 31st March 2022.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:14 pm, 31st March 2022

I will come to fertilisers in a moment. I hope that my hon. Friend has a useful and productive recess planting his crops—I am sure he will. Food is what farmers produce; it is our job. I should have drawn attention to my own farming interests at the beginning of this speech. It is right that we continue to support farmers—be in no doubt about that. The Government have committed to support farmers in the Budget year on year. I think that is very important.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton knows, it is my view that food is uppermost in what farmers think about and do. The Government have two other goals—what the EU used to call pillars—bedded into our future farming policies: nature recovery, which I think the whole House agrees is important; and carbon capture. Several hon. Members have referenced that we are going to have to adapt to climate change. Those three factors are bedded into our future farming policies, which are very much about supporting farmers to produce efficiently and productively, and to make the food that we need.

Having said all that, we need to be careful about our tone. There are going to be real problems elsewhere in the world with food supply this year; we are very fortunate in this country in that our import dependency on that area in eastern Europe is low and that we have strong domestic production of food such as wheat, maize and rapeseed. Other nations depend much more heavily on Ukraine and the area around it for those products than we do. We have to be quite careful in the way we have this discussion. What the war does directly contribute to in this country is rising costs, notably energy costs, and wider supply chain disruption. We should not gloss over those facts.

We know that the wider disruption is having a real impact on the supply and the cost of feed and fertiliser. I was very glad to chair our first meeting this morning of the fertiliser group—it was a useful meeting, in which we focused very much on practical solutions. We agreed—my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton will be glad to know—that we do need to use fertiliser to produce our crop and we need to make sure that there is enough fertiliser for all sorts of farmers, including livestock farmers, who need to produce the forage crops for next winter and in order to bump the wheat up to milling wheat status. We agreed that we did have confidence in our supply and we will be putting out a statement later today agreed by those at the group this morning—the real experts in this field—that we have sufficient supply and, while there is a cost implication, farmers should not be frightened to buy or to use fertiliser this year.

I would never refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton in the terms the Prime Minister used yesterday, as an “old muckspreader”—I believe he is quite happy to be referred to as a muckspreader, but not an old one. I thank him and my hon. Friend Greg Smith for their remarks on the changes on urea in the farming rules for water statutory guidance, which I think are sensible and welcome, and on the supercharging of our efforts on new supplies of biofertilisers rather than chemical fertilisers. That is all welcome; none of it is a complete solution, and we should not pretend for one minute that it is, but it is all good work that needs to be done and I am glad that that is recognised.

On the role of supermarkets, in the last week or so I have met all the major supermarkets to understand the issues they face and to discuss with them what they can do to pass production costs to the primary producers.

On food poverty, we learned during the pandemic—we saw once again—that targeted interventions are the way forward here. From April, the Government are providing an additional £500 million to help households with the costs of essentials. That brings the total funding for that support to £1 billion, which is very welcome. Although only half of food insecurity is in households with children, it is worth referencing the £220 million in our holiday activities and food programme, which goes directly to children.