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AgriCulture Live Podcast Transcript - Episode 14

AgriCulture Live - Episode 14 with Sir Mark Spencer of the Conservatives
"Election Policies of the Conservatives for Agriculture & Farming"

Rebekah 00:00

Hello and welcome to AgriCulture Live. My name's Rebekah Shields and I'm from Agricultural Recruitment Specialists. Don't go anywhere. You don't want to miss this. We've got a great episode ahead. It's the second one of our election specials looking at the Conservatives' election policies for agriculture and farming. If you've got any comments, please put them in the comments box and we'll come to them when we can, or any questions that you may have. So over to you, Mark, would you like to introduce yourself?

Mark 00:35

Yeah, so I'm Mark Spencer. I'm the Minister of State in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I've got responsibility for farming, food and fish.

Rebekah 00:45

Fantastic, so tell us about your background in agriculture.

Mark 00:56

Yeah, so we're former dairy farmers who diversified the business, sort of by accident. Really. My father started growing potatoes in the 60s and sort of sold them into the city of Nottingham. For a long time he used to take a tractor and trailer into Nottingham and then got fed up, frankly, by being messed around by people who would order 40 bags to get a discount and then make him deliver them all over everywhere. And so he said, right, if you want a bag of taters you'll have to come to the farm and fetch them yourself. And so we sort of accidentally set up a farm shop in the 60s and that's sort of grown and grown and to the point where when we got to the year 2000 we had to choose really between farm retail and dairy farming.


And dairy farming wasn't making very much money and felt like hard work and the farm shop business was starting to expand. So, we've now diversified pretty much into farm retail and the tail wag the dog a bit, if you like. So, the farm now produces solely for the farm shop, potatoes, beef and sheep, a bit of arable on the side as well. So, it's a completely diversified business. I mean, I should add that it's not me doing it. Of course I'm busy playing at politics. So, my father's still around. He's 80 this time works. Every course I'm busy playing at politics, so my father's still around. He's 80 and works every day.


Typical farmer still working at 80!

Mark 02:12

You've got to keep him going. I mean, like I say to him, you don't change your boots until you've worn the old ones out. So that's what we're doing we're wearing the old ones out first.

Rebekah 02:20

Fantastic. So how did you get into politics and why? What was the reason behind it?

Mark 02:25

So, I mean a little bit by accident, I suppose. Like all young farmers, I joined young farmers, got involved in the movement with no real ambition. I just wanted to enjoy the sport, enjoy the competition, enjoy the social life. But found myself sort of progressing through the organisation, through to sort of county chair, East Midlands area chairman, and then found myself Chairman of the National Federation. And I suppose in those circumstances then you get drawn into politics with a small peak. So we were, you know, doing quite a lot of campaigning on tenancy reform, on rural housing, rural transport, session planning, all the things that sort of mattered to young people in rural areas at the time and when, of course, I finished as chairman of the National Federation. I'm a big believer in when you've done a job and someone else takes over, you need to move aside and let them get on with it. You know you don't want to be hanging around.


So, I sort of was left with a bit of a void in my life really and uh, because young farmers have taken along a lot of my time up and uh drawn me into politics with a small p, so the party joined the Royal Agricultural Society as well and so we carried on. Really found myself as a district councillor and then, of course, when it came to my own seat being selected, we'd not done a brilliant job of selecting people from our own area. The Conservative Party, I think in the 80s and 90s was very good at selecting very smart barristers to stand in the coalfields of Nottinghamshire and local communities would look at other people and say, well, you have a lot in common with me, um, and so you know, I sort of got peer pressured into standing myself, uh, and I suppose that's history and you've never looked back.

Rebekah 04:15

So how did you become a Knight Bachelor?

Mark 04:19

Well, I mean, that's uh, that's a gift from the Prime Minister. It was quite a surprise at the time, but you know, I think I suppose, having served in Cabinet as the Government Chief Whip and Leader of the House of Commons, you know just one of those nice things that happens. I suppose that people recognise your contribution. I mean, that's for others to judge, really, but it was quite a nice thing to happen. I've not actually been yet to see the King, so it was announced three or four months ago, but the Palace take about six to eight months to line up those events. So at some point in the future I've got to go to either Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle to be knighted, which is quite exciting. It's something to be knighted which is quite exciting.

Rebekah 05:05

It's something to be proud of, definitely, Mark. So why the Conservatives? Why did you choose them as your party?

Mark 05:12

Yeah, I mean, that's a really good question, I suppose. I mean, I think, so let's reverse that question. I suppose I do understand socialism. I mean, I think I do have quite a bit of respect for people on the opposite side of the political debate and I understand how socialism can be attracted to people, and of course we would want to protect the most vulnerable in society. Of course we'd want to share wealth across the nation and make sure everybody has a fair crack of the whip.


The difficulty with socialism is it doesn't work, and that's its flaw, and so the only way in which you can drive aspiration and you can improve people's lives is by creating the economic circumstances by which people can aspire and create a ladder of aspiration. So, if you're willing to work hard enough and you have the ability, you're rewarded for that. It seems like the philosophy of the Conservative Party, that ladder of aspiration, so that certainly attracts me to it. But I think fundamentally the values of the Conservative Party in terms of the importance of family, the importance of security, of law and order, of military defence, they're in the DNA of the Conservative Party and they're certainly attractive to me.

Rebekah 06:34

Fantastic. So let's talk about the Conservatives and what they've done for agriculture over their time in power. What would you say the main things are Mark?

Mark 06:43

Well, of course, uh, in the middle of all of that, we had Brexit, didn't we? Um, which was a huge challenge and lots of mine. I mean I don't want to relive that that argument, but I mean I backed remain at the time it was. I thought that would have been the best thing for the UK out to stay within the EU, but clearly the country made a different decision. Lots of farmers around me came to a different conclusion, and so you do then have to respect that decision, that democratic decision, and make the best of Brexit. And I think, actually, on reflection you know, sat here now, I wouldn't want to rejoin the EU.


I think, we are able to stand on our own feet and I suppose managing that transition has been the biggest challenge for the, for the party and for the government moving away from the EU to find those opportunities and there are opportunities actually, I think the gene editing bill is a really good example of that, where we've been able to free up institutions like Rothstead, John Innes, to go and do the best genetic research that we can free up the bureaucratic EU legislation that stopped some of that gene editing, which means now the UK, or certainly England, because the Scots have not followed us, have a real opportunity actually to go and develop new genetic breeds of plants and, in time, look at how genetic engineering can improve animal welfare and animal breeding as well.


So, I think that's, that's one of the things which we've been able to deliver. But of course, the other challenge, I suppose, is that transition away from the bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy, away from the bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy into a new system, into a new regime which again brings some challenge but some opportunity. And I think I mean I hope that people will feel out there now that we're starting to get Sustainable Farming Initiative right, that it started to work for farmers. We're able to not only look after the planet and, of course, do the right thing environmentally, but also produce food in a way which is more sustainable, and I mean sustainable in every sense, sustainable from an environmental sense, but sustainable from an economic sense, because of course farmers have to be profitable to deliver the great things that we are delivering which, of course, the primary function is food production.

Rebekah 09:11

So, what would you say? The top three things that the Conservatives have done for the industry over their time.

Mark 09:17

I mean one of the most important things that the government can do for farmers, frankly, is keep out of the way and not poke our nose in too much. You know too much red tape is a huge challenge. So you know I'm quite uh, I'm quite proud that we've been able to roll some of that back to try and reduce some of that red tape, reduce some of those what people would call inspections and turn them from inspections into support visits, and I hope that people now are feeling that. So when the Environment Agency turn up in your yard or the RPA, they're not there to catch you out. And if people are feeling that, then I'd be very keen to hear that, because you know we want to try and change that culture of government not there to turn up with a tape measure and catch you out, like it used to feel like that with the old EU scheme. Um, we're there to try and help and assist, and sometimes it felt when we were in the EU that those rules were too rigid. There wasn't that flexibility, and I mean I had farmers in my own constituency contact me where they'd have 500 metres of margin. That would clearly meet the right criteria and they'd be over a metre wide next to a hedgerow, but they'd be 20 yards. That were 900mm and the rules meant that then they were facing a fine Despite 500 meters. Down the down the edge row, um, there was a bit that was 1.2 meters wide, um.


So I hope we can, we can sort of approach these things in a more with more common sense and with a bit more sort of uh discussion to a certain extent, you know.


So I think that's, that's a big change. I think the granting system, that we've introduced under SFI, to give capital grants to people for, you know, slurry infrastructure, new carp housing, new beef housing, all of those sort of new tech and new, new equipment will drive efficiency and productivity on farms as well, but also getting us to think about environmental things as well hedgerow management and soil management, because this goes to the core, I suppose, of the challenge we face as a sector, in that there are those out there that want to paint us as the problem, that want to say that the reason the planet is facing the challenges it is because of modern food production and modern agriculture. It's really, really important that we as a sector, paint ourselves as the solution, and I strongly believe we are the, the solution to the challenges that the thought that the, uh, the planet is facing in terms of um global warming, and I think, if we can do that, then there's huge political opportunity for us and huge economic opportunity for us as well.

Rebekah 12:05

So, what do you think have been the main mistakes?

Mark 12:11

I mean it's probably for others to critique where we've got it wrong. I think clearly it's always difficult when you're making change, because people don't always like change. They get used to what they've got used to and you know. So going through that process there's always opportunity to try and improve that communication and it always takes longer than you want it to take. So that has been a little bit trickier. I suppose early on under the design of SFI, maybe we could have sold that dream better. But I think that's calmed down now and people seem much happier and are able to understand it.


But you know, I think it's difficult really to identify those because you know, whenever I see something that I think is not quite right, we do everything we can to try and put that right um but there are always those that that either disagree or fall foul of those changes, and I mean, I hope the one thing we've been able to deliver is a bit more empathy and a bit more support for those people, because there are some there are actually some tragedies that have taken place where people have struggled with those changes and uh, and not had, you know, people to support them so tell us about the changes going forward.

Rebekah 13:32

If you guys get back into power, what are you going to do and what changes are you going to make regarding the agricultural and farming issues that we've got?

Mark 13:44

Yeah, so I do think we need a period of stability, frankly, and a period of farmers just being able to get on and produce food. We need a bit of a break with the weather, don't we as well? Yes, I don't think there's been a season in my father's farming lifetime like we've just experienced. I've got a shed full of winter wheat and a shed full of spring wheat seed, which I won't be able to get into the ground, but I think. So keeping out of the way to a certain extent and letting the SFI system settle down and people get used to that.


And if we're going to do that, that will mean that we need to increase the support for the budget. That at least needs to go up with inflation, which is what we're committed to do, to raising that 4.2 billion pound budget by inflation. Uh, the treasury are supporting that, which I think is a big step forward. So, of course, if it doesn't go up in value, the budget, we're actually going backwards. So we're committed to doing that.


But I think there's more we can do to review what government does and those arms length bodies, because what I do hear quite often is frustration in that DEFRA is telling me, as a farmer, to do X Y Z, but the Environment Agency and Natural England seem to oppose the changes I want to make to facilitate what DEFRA is asking me to do. So I think there is a bit of work to be done to review how those arms-length bodies, particularly in Natural England and the Environment Agency and the RPA, interact with farmers and who they're accountable for, because I think at the moment it does feel a little bit as though they are not accountable, certainly to the politicians, and able to make decisions without consultation. Back to politicians and to the department.

Rebekah 15:32

Okay, and what other things are you going to do?

Mark 15:37

So, again, I think we need to carry on pushing the genetic improvement that we can do through our research institute, supporting really good investment in our technology going forward, because we've always been quite good as a sector at investing in technology and embracing the latest tech. And of course, we need to carry on doing that if we're going to continue to produce uh more from less, which we've been able to do, because there are, of course, are all uh more pressures on land use all the time um like.


Uh, we need to have that debate about where we're going to put solar panels, for example. Um, I'm not a fan of putting solar panels on productive arable land. I think that is a mistake. There are an awful lot of rooftops out there that we should be doing first, and so we've committed to stopping solar panels on certainly grade one, two and three A land and incentivising people to put cash behind farmers being able to put solar panels on grain stores, potato stores, cattle buildings to invest in their own energy production.


I think there's also a role that we can play in looking at small scale anaerobic digestion. I think is also an option to try and give farmers more options in terms of producing their own energy on farm, because they're the things that are most challenging, I suppose, in terms of your bills day to day. It is feed, fert and energy that seem to be the big challenges. Now, if we can help with one of those energy production, then clearly that's uh that's going to assist. Um. Hopefully we'll get a better season next time, so that should um suppress the price of feed. Um, but there are also some challenges coming in the autumn.


You know, I'm not quite sure where all the straw is going to come from frankly for the livestock sector so I think government will have to give a bit of thought in the autumn as to how it's going to help and support people get through this moment because you know a lot of people have not been able to get into crops, into the ground. Um, a lot of those in the sheep sector suffered quite a lot of loss of lambs because of the wet, cold spring. So, it's going to bring huge pressure to people in the autumn and, uh, you know government needs to think about how it can help and support people through that cash flow moment when we get to September, October.

Rebekah 18:02

A big question from the industry is obviously because we don't make up the biggest part of the GDP. As with any party, are we a priority to the Conservatives?

Mark 18:14

I mean, I think, goodness me, we're very, very important as a sector. You know, and I think certainly the Conservative Party recognises that, and I can assure you all governments will recognise that, if the food stops, we are number one political priority. Believe me, we are very important as a sector and you know, I think it's quite important that we, as a farming sector, continue to bang that drum, because, you know, I think what we do day to day is very important to my constituents and you know, consumers have got used to good quality food at a reasonable price, have got used to good quality food at a reasonable price being on the supermarket shelves day in, day out. Now that's not a coincidence that that's happened. That has been the food system, farmers, um processors and retailers working together to deliver that. And I think, um, going back to your previous question, that's the other thing I think the government can do a little bit more of to make sure that there's fairness in that supply chain, that those who are participating in producing our food all get a fair crack of the whip.


And I think for too long there's been reasonable profits and return in the retail sector and the processing sector and it is the primary producers, the farmers that have lost out in that supply chain. And when I've seen that, I've seen that unfairness for myself. That's why we introduced legislation in the dairy sector to put into legislation dairy contracts, to make sure that there was that fairness in the dairy supply chain. We've done the same in the pig sector and we're halfway through reviews into free range eggs, fresh produce, vegetables, as well as looking at beef and sheep and broiler chickens as well. So I think where we don't see fairness, we will step in and legislate, and I think that's the right thing to do and I think we need to do more of that to make sure there is that fairness in the supply chain, because if it's not there, there'll be no food. You know, if farmers are not making a profit, they won't do it.

Rebekah 20:24

And do consumers pay enough for food?

Mark 20:26

It's easy to get elected by saying um, great news, constituents, I'm going to campaign to put up the value of your food bills week in, week out yeah I think, again to turn the argument around, what is important is that that is sustainable for the long term and in order to make sure our supermarket shelves are full of food in the future, farmers have to be profitable. If they're not profitable, they won't produce the food and there is no processor or retailer to deliver that food if there's nobody making it. So you know we've all got a vested interest in here in making sure that system works and making sure that everybody gets a fair crack of the whip, and you know we've seen examples of where that hasn't worked properly, and I think that's where government should step in and intervene, which is what we've done.

Rebekah 21:26

So massive issues. At the minute - we've got farm safety, mental health, you know, being a big issue in farming. How would you tackle these issues?

Mark 21:37

Yeah, so I've done quite a lot on the mental health front. Um, it's something that I, uh, have been driven towards actually by my own kids. Um, you know, they're now in their early 20s and they've experienced a bit of tragedy with some of their friends and colleagues, you know, making silly decisions and not getting the right level of support, which results in tragedy, and I think we do need to, as a sector, do a bit more to support our friends and neighbours and make sure that they're okay and they're coping. So there's quite a lot we need to do going forward, but there's also quite a lot we've done in the past as well. So the government's putting quite a lot of money half a million quid into some of those charities, and I've worked quite closely with Yellow Wellies and RABI to see what we can do to continue to sort of wrap our arms around people and make sure that they feel supported when they face those challenges but.


I also think there's quite a role for us as a sector, as you know, as farmers, to just check in on your neighbour every now and again or, uh, you know, make sure that that everybody's feeling okay and get that message out there that it's okay not to be okay and it's okay to reach out and say, actually I'm not coping with this very well, because if we can avoid those sort of tragedies, then I think that's very important.


I also think it's quite a role for us as well to try and improve health and safety on farms. You know too often you of tragedies of people being killed on farms or seriously injured.


I've been there as a farmer myself where you're under pressure for time or weather or whatever, and you take a shortcut or you don't follow the right procedure in terms of health and safety and know hands up. I've done that myself, but we we've just got to get better at that to go there. So making sure we use the right equipment to make sure that we do the right thing at the right moment, because you know you live forever with the regret of making a wrong choice if it goes wrong.

Rebekah 23:54

Definitely. So what about the “Buy British” food stance?

Mark 24:01

Yeah, I mean, I think again. You know, I often advocated this when I've gone around talking to Rotary clubs and WI's and various groups that the Great British countryside that we all hold so dear is not there by accident. It's been landscaped and sculpted, if you like, by farmers over generations. The dry stone walls of Yorkshire are not there for postcards, they're there to keep in sheep. If there are no sheep, there are no dry stone walls. If you go to Exmoor and Dartmoor, those beautiful moorlands are there, created by the animals, by the ponies, the cattle and the sheep that have grazed those moors for hundreds of years. So you know, eat if you like. You can eat.


The view, the food choices you make as a consumer directly affect the landscape by which you hold so dear.


And if you don't Buy British, then you will affect the landscape that we all love.


And I don't want to go and look at bracken and silver birch trees, I want those beautiful green rolling hillsides that England delivers. And so that's quite an important message to get across and there's quite a lot the government can do to help and support that. I suppose and number one, the way in which we procure food as a government quite important that we try and shift that towards buying local, buying British, if you like. So we've done quite a lot to do that. There's more to do, but also I think labelling is going to be important, moving forward as well, so that consumers actually know what they're buying. And I know Red Tractor has had a few difficulties, which I've tried very hard not to get shot in the crossfire of, but it is the best brand that we've got. We need to continue to embrace Red Tractor and make sure our consumers understand that buying Red Tractor produce is good for the landscapes and good for our consumers. Understand that buying red tractor produce is good for the landscapes and good for our UK farmers.

Rebekah 26:00

Yeah, definitely so a massive issue. Another one - is obviously the ageing farming population. I did read the Tories are planning on promoting agri-careers and skills. Can you tell us more about this and how you will do it and what you hope to achieve?

Mark 26:19

Yeah. So it always seems confusing to me that we've got the coolest brands within the food supply chains yet we can't seem to attract the brightest and best people into the food production system. And some of that, I suppose, is down to parents not understanding the great opportunities that are there in food production. So it is down to career advisors who still I think you know that they say to kids that are not aspirational, then you can go and work on a farm, when the truth is that actually the technology now on UK farms is so advanced that we need the brightest and the best young people to come and get involved. If you want to drive a half a million pound combine harvester, you know you need the brightest young people to come and do that, because that's very expensive kit that's technologically quite difficult to manage. So, we do need the brightest and best people to come into our sector. That's why we've introduced this scheme, TIAH, which is basically aimed at giving you career options so you can plan your career right the way through the food and farming sector to try and draw all of those strands of education together.


But I think there's also more we can do with some of the processors and retailers as well. You know, if you're PepsiCo, Walker's Crisps, for example, you don't just need people to stand on the line and look at potatoes going by. You need scientists, you need engineers, you need court insurance people. There are great careers that are available in food production, both in the processing sector, but also in the farming sector as well. So, I think we've got a good story to tell as well. You know, if you want to save the planet, the biggest challenges we face as a as a planet, are our climate change and managing that, that increase in global population, keeping everybody well fed. So, the two big challenges of the of the next generation are going to be food production and climate change. But what better way to shape the future of the planet and get involved in farming?

Rebekah 28:35

And then, obviously, you've got the agri-tech side as well. You know there's some great advances coming in for young individuals too. You know, really take hold of this industry. We need them, don't we? Mark?

Mark 28:46

Well, we've definitely got the best universities in the world. You know Oxford, Cambridge, you know some of those red brick institutions that we've got Harper Adams they are genuinely world leading in their research John Innes, Rothamstead - they're right up there with Yale and what the US has got to offer. So, I think exciting opportunities there for science moving forward.

Rebekah 29:15

And we've always been at the cutting edge of that in the UK, haven't we?

Mark 29:17

You know Norman Borlaug and Geoffrey O'Toole, the inventor of the seed drill, Harry Ferguson, inventor of the three-point linkage and draft hydraulics. You know, I think we've always been at the cutting edge of agricultural advancement and we need to carry on that, actually, because you know, I think there again there'll be opportunity to improve the productive productivity of UK farmers as we embrace that technology.

Rebekah 29:46

I think a big problem, Mark, is that, like for myself, say, it was never an option. Unless you were from a farming or agricultural background at school, You'd never even consider it. You just think, oh, it's just working on a farm. You didn't see all the consultants and you know all of the other positions within agriculture that you could go into. I was reading that and not a lot of kids know where food comes from, where eggs come from. You know it's ridiculous. Do you think that there will ever be an opportunity for us to get agriculture and farming as a subject in schools?

Mark 30:31

Yes, actually I talked to Gillian Keegan about this, the Secretary for Education, and she's certainly up for that conversation. I think not just the role for government, though. As well there's a role for us as farmers, and you know, I would say to your viewers that we can all contribute in this direction, because I think what's happened? If you go back to the 30s and 40s, everybody knew a farmer, everybody knew or someone who worked on the land, because there were so many people, so they understood food production, and as we've sort of embraced technology and reduced the number of people working within the sector, we sort of lost that connectivity to our consumer, and we and I think there is a role here for us to go out and explain to our neighbours and our consumers what we're doing and when we're doing it, and I think that really helps actually.


So you know when we're, uh, when we're cleaning out cattle sheds here, it can be a bit smelly, um, but explain to people. Actually we've had the cattle inside all winter to you know, keep them warm and dry. Now they've gone out into the fields. We need to empty the manure out of those sheds and actually we use that as an organic fertilizer to put nutrients back into the, into the soil, to help improve soil structure and, um, you know, explaining that actually, uh, helps them than cope with a smelly weekend when you're mucking the shed out, or whether you're when you're spreading muck onto the, onto the field. So, I think taking people on that journey with us is quite important and, yes, there's certainly a role for the education system to do that, but there's also for a role for us as a sector to go and get stuck into those local rotary clubs and wis and school assemblies.


You know, every Monday morning there's a group of teachers in your primary school, next to your farm, sat around going oh my goodness, I've got assembly on Wednesday. What we're going to say to these kids. Well, if a local farmer you know contacts someone, says can I come and talk about food production at your school assembly, then you know, I think they will embrace that and I would encourage people to go. And, you know, get stuck in and let's go evangelize for UK agriculture.

Rebekah 32:43

What about the apprenticeship side for farming?

Mark 32:47

Yeah. So I mean again, you know, I think we need to look at that and work with the department of education to make sure we get good apprenticeship uh schemes set up, uh and build that, if you like, career structure. So, move away from jobs into careers and make sure that people have got that ability to, to develop, I suppose, their own career and make sure that they're financially rewarded for that.


Because, at the end of the day, it does come down to money, doesn't it? You know the farms need to be profitable in order to fund the kids coming into the sector, because what we have seen, I think, over the last 30 years is farming. Sons and daughters say to their parents well, actually, you know, I can go and earn this, dad, now I've got a degree, I can go and earn this elsewhere and all you're going to do is pay me, you know, minimum wage and let me drive the farm truck round, uh, in the evening. That doesn't seem like a great career option to me. So, we do need to make sure that we fight for that profitability, if you like, so that we can afford to pay people a reasonable wage. And again, as I say, those careers involve driving very expensive kit. Working with agrochemicals You've got to get the dosage right, haven't you of pesticides on fields. That requires a degree of intelligence and ability. So, we've got to get the brightest and best kids involved and let's go back to the food um issue.

Rebekah 34:18

So, every other country has got a food target. Why doesn't the UK have one?

Mark 34:23

Yeah, so we've actually introduced that this time. Uh, at the farming, um, farm to fork summit. Uh, at number 10 this time the prime minister says we are going to now monitor our food security as a nation and of course it's not easy to do that. It's quite a complicated algorithm to get that figure right, because you know so, if you, you know. To boil it down to sort of a silly argument, if you measured that in calories, then actually if we all just grew sugar beet, then you could argue we're food secure, so clearly calories not the way to measure it. If you measure it in tons per, you know tonnage then we all grew cabbage, then uh, then clearly we deliver on the tonnage, uh, so getting that balance right between what is food security and where that sits in global exchange of goods is going to be quite tricky.


I think we've got the right algorithm. So, there's several sort of characteristics that we're going to measure to determine whether we are improving or not our food security going forward. But that's going to be a really important tool to measure the output of what the effects farming is feeling from government policy. So, for example, in Wales, under the Welsh government, they're insisting that farmers take 20% of their land out of production for environmental schemes. So, 10% into forestry, 10% into habitat. That seems like a very top-down approach to me, and we in England are taking a different approach, which says this is what we'll pay you to do and it's your choice. Your choice where you produce food, your choice where you produce food, your choice where you uh want to plant trees or put in habitat, and I think that's the better way of doing it uh, in that then you're in control as the farmer, you know what's best on your farm uh, and you know. I think that's a much better system uh, and we'll be able to measure the impact of those policies on our productivity.

Rebekah 36:29

Okay, so big question Mark. Historically, farmers have tended to vote Tory. Why should they continue to do so now?

Mark 36:40

I mean, I think this is a big moment actually in the general election campaign because I do worry for the future of farming under a different administration. There isn't the understanding on the opposition benches of UK agriculture and food production. There isn't the understanding not only of our, of our businesses, but of our, our social structures, of our, you know, of country sports and country practices, and I think, you know, I think we'll face huge challenges, not least in the farming budget, if we have a change of administration. Um, yeah, now is not the moment to switch to, another administration, because I think we will be bottom of the pile, as you sort of hinted at, Rebekah earlier in this interview.


If we don't get that level of support, we don't get that understanding from government, then our ability to produce food and to make a profit will be seriously undermined. And I think there's a real danger that a future administration may see the NHS, hospitals, education as a priority and not UK agriculture. Which is why I said earlier, we've got to paint ourselves as part of the solution and we've got to make sure that we politicians and consumers understand how important we are, because if we're not there producing food. Uh, they'll soon, they'll soon realize. Uh, there is that understanding in the Conservative party. I'm not sure it exists in other, in other political parties thanks, Mark.

Rebekah 38:22

It's been a great discussion. You know you've covered so much there and it's great to have your input today. Thank you everyone for watching or listening, and thank you, Sir Mark Spencer. Keep following us. We've got some great new discussions coming up. If you have got an interesting topic in agricultural farming that you would like to talk about, please get in contact with me via agricultural recruitment specialists, which is www.agriRS.com and if you would like to hear more about any new issues and topics within the industry, please follow us on the various channels, including Spotify, YouTube, Apple Podcasts. Just look up AgriCulture Live. So, Mark, would you like to say goodbye?

Mark 39:12

Yeah, thanks everybody for tuning in, and obviously I hope to be re-elected, but farming is in my blood and is my passion, so whatever the future holds, I'll be there to back and support UK agriculture. We're very important as a sector and let's make sure the world understands how important we are.

Rebekah 39:32

Thanks, Mark.

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