Farmers’ leaders have accused the Government of ‘questionable economic literacy’ and endangering Britain’s ‘treasured countryside’ by signing a trade deal with New Zealand last week.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, described the deal as a ‘win-win for two like-minded democracies who believe in free and fair trade’ and ‘a vital part of our plan to level up the country’, after Britain agreed to phase out quotas on New Zealand lamb, beef and dairy imports.

New Zealand will also reduce tariffs on a number of UK goods, including clothing and footwear, buses, ships, and bulldozers.

The deal – which follows last month’s agreement with Australia – has infuriated UK farmers, who fear the market being flooded with New Zealand meat, which is cheaper to produce.

Writing in today’s Mail on Sunday, Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, says ‘our iconic countryside, an incredible patchwork of stone walls, hedges, flower meadows, rolling fields of wheat and barley, is at a crossroads.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, described the deal as a ‘win-win for two like-minded democracies who believe in free and fair trade’

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, described the deal as a ‘win-win for two like-minded democracies who believe in free and fair trade’

‘The future of farming and food lies in political hands and the decisions made now will be far-reaching and have huge consequences for us all.’

Ms Batters adds: ‘Farmers underpin the very fabric of the country and the precious environment that they’ve committed so much to. If farmers are removed from the land, environmental degradation will follow.

‘The current actions of this Government indicate a level of questionable economic literacy towards the future of our treasured countryside.

‘I can only think they are blind to the damage they’ll be presiding over or, even worse, they’re actively pursuing a policy of cold-blooded attrition of the land. I hope my greatest fear isn’t unfounded.

‘Failure to maintain and grow our food self-sufficiency will drive our farmers from the land.’

This newspaper has highlighted the risks to the country’s £10 billion agricultural industry in our Save Our Family Farms campaign, highlighting fears that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would ‘swap Brussels for Brisbane’ by opening up British markets to farmers Down Under.

Even before the deal was signed, the UK imported 32,368 tons of lamb from New Zealand in the year to August 2020, at a value of £120 million. In stark contrast, according to data from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the UK exported just 627 tons to New Zealand in the same period – all of it frozen – at a value of just £1.2 million to British farmers.

The gap between the ‘farm gate’ price – the cost of the product available at the farm, excluding any transport costs – between the UK and New Zealand means Kiwi lamb is about 50p cheaper per kilogram than British lamb.

However, this can rise to as much as £2 a kilogram as New Zealand is one of the world’s largest exporters of lamb so its prices remain relatively stable, while the cost of our home-grown lamb varies considerably by season. This means that it might be more appealing for restaurants and supermarkets to import New Zealand lamb for a large portion of the year than to purchase more expensive British meat.

The sheer size of the operations can explain the difference.

New Zealand’s average farm size is 270 hectares. This compares to England’s 87 hectares.

The New Zealand lamb marketplace needs to feed five million people in New Zealand, while the UK lamb trade needs to feed more 65 million. New Zealand has 26 million sheep, which is a sheep-to–people ratio of 5:1. The UK has 32 million sheep, a ratio of 1:2.

All the odds are stacked against UK farmers so it’s time for Ministers to champion us – rather than patronise us, writes National Farmers’ Union President MINETTE BATTERS

Minette Batters, President National Farmers’ Union, for Sunday Mail 

As a farmer and president of the NFU, representing 55,000 farming businesses, all I’ve ever wanted is for global Britain to strike trade deals that are fair for farmers and fair to the British public; deals that fulfil the Government’s very strong commitment that our farmers won’t be undermined.

We all know how concerned the public is about this. Last year, more than a million people signed one of the biggest petitions the country has seen – demanding that British food standards are protected.

The Mail on Sunday’s Save Our Family Farms campaign has been vital in this fight and led the Government to introduce a legally binding commitment to produce a report on the impacts that trade deals will have on food and farming. There is no other sector that allows MPs to have oversight and ultimately control over free trade agreements.

But the future of rural Britain –our iconic countryside with its patchwork of stone walls, hedges, flower meadows, rolling fields of wheat and barley – is at a crossroads. Its fate – along with farming and food production – lies in political hands and the decisions made by Ministers will have far-reaching and huge consequences for us all.

Minette Batters (left), pictured with former International Trade Secretary Liz Truss (right), wants global Britain to strike trade deals that are fair for farmers and fair to the British public

Minette batters (left), pictured together with Liz Truss (right), want global Britain to reach trade agreements that are fair for British farmers.

I hear often in Government that farmers don’t have a place in modern politics. They are too small to be relevant.

What such wrong-headed views don’t factor in is that farmers underpin the very fabric of the country and the environment that politicians are so committed to protecting. Eliminating farmers will lead to environmental degradation.

Although food security and self-sufficiency are of critical national importance, the Government’s actions indicate a level of questionable economic literacy.

I can only think Ministers are blind to the damage they’ll be presiding over or, even worse, they’re actively pursuing a policy of cold-blooded attrition of the land. I hope my greatest fear isn’t unfounded.

Farmers would be forced to leave the land if they couldn’t ensure food self sufficiency. For it is they who run businesses, food production and who care for the environment – and you can’t have one without the other.

So when I hear that 30% of land should be set aside for nature, my immediate question becomes: Who will look after the farmers? Who will take care of the land and produce our food?

What are we to do when Ministers tell companies that they must raise costs by raising wages and complying with stricter regulations, but ask us to reduce costs to compete against the most efficient farmers around the world? These questions cause downward glances but remain unanswered.

Partnership working is key to the success of all independent trading nations. New Zealanders and Australians have learned over the years to spread their risk. They are small in number. They are able to farm large areas and are serious exporters. They have lower production costs and can offer flexible access to workers around the world.

Their governments, too, are heavily invested in the technical expertise for opening up new markets and – interestingly – food prices in both countries are higher than the UK.

These issues aren’t the only reason that the stakes are high for British farmers.

Our Government is currently introducing new laws to protect the environment, animal welfare, as well as animal sentience.

These are areas that farmers care deeply about. We only ask that other countries, with which we have struck trade agreements, do the same. However, there is no evidence of this happening.

Importantly, British farmers would lose their competitiveness if they were undercut by imported food made in ways that are illegal in this country.

I’m continually asked by Ministers to think positively. This is quite insulting to the farmers that I represent. It is insulting to be told by politicians that you can’t raise standards and your government will accept imports with lower standards if you run a business that could collapse. Our antipodean counterparts played a blinder during negotiations for the trade agreement with Britain last week. New Zealand’s PM patted Boris Johnson on the back and used a rugby analogy to give her verdict on the deal: ‘The All Blacks won!’

Six years ago, the then Australian High Commissioner, Alexander Downer, told me: ‘You screwed us over when you joined the EU. We’ve been through hell and we’re coming back to get you.’

Minette Batters of the National Farmers' Union (left) said she often hears talk in Government that farmers are no longer relevant to modern politics, too small a voice to matter

Minette Batters, National Farmers’ Union (left), said that she hears a lot in Government about farmers being irrelevant to modern politics. She believes they are too small to be relevant.

He was right. The UK has allowed Australia to have a fully liberalized trade deal, something they had never dreamed possible.

I don’t doubt the pain that Australia had previously suffered – and I also don’t doubt the passion Australia had for ensuring its farmers got a great deal with the UK.

What farmers here – and the British public – need is the same willpower and ambition from our government.

Representatives of Australia’s High Commission in this country have been very busy here – hosting parties for Cabinet members and MPs – championing their great country. I spoke to one these Australian representatives at the Conservative Party conference. I told them that my fellow members required similar action from our Government. They agreed.

I also asked if Australia would soon have an animal sentience/welfare bill. The response was: ‘Never! We need to be globally competitive.’ That conversation vividly underlined to me how high the odds really are stacked against British farming.

We are at the crossroads between change and stability. Our government must make important decisions.

These choices are easy. Do we want farmers to have a sustainable future? Do we believe in a vibrant food-producing industry? Do we want to help our farmers achieve net zero by 2040 or do we want to outsource their production? Or do you want to outsource your food production, leave British farming behind and eat food from any country in the world, regardless what the standards or conditions?

To secure our farmers’ future, requires strong, global leadership. There are four things Britain needs to do from its government to get on the right path.

1. Follow Australia and New Zealand’s lead by establishing full-time trade advisors (or agricultural counsellors) to identify new countries and open up these markets to our high-quality food. To underline the trust, traceability, and standards of our food production, farmers should be invited to participate in trade delegations.

2. The Government must use the current food self sufficiency figure of 60% as a measure of success in the legally binding food security reports it has to produce before the end the year. Our farming industry will cease to be viable if our food production falls below the required level.

3. Ensure we have a planned approach to accessing a workforce for our farms and food processing industry when they’re needed. We will never again have to face the same problem of killing healthy pigs due to a shortage in abattoir workers.

4. To be the world’s leader in climate-smart agriculture, work with the British farming sector. Our farmers want the world to follow their example by adopting new, sustainable farming practices.

There has never been a more critical time for Britain to be a global leader in sustainable, high-quality food production.

This is a chance for the Government to win a gold medal at COP26. The alternative is the huge risk that in future years we will look back and realise – to paraphrase Churchill – that never have we lost so much for so little…

Buy British! Jeremy Clarkson’s TV series contractor KALEB COOPER appeals to politicians, as the specter of more cheap foreign meat imports hangs above the industry

Kaleb Cooper is the Mail on Sunday’s Editor 

Jeremy Clarkson has done more for British farming in one TV series than the BBC’s Countryfile has managed in 30 years of broadcasting, according to the Cumbrian sheep farmer James Rebanks.

And I know exactly what he is referring to.

You might have seen me in Clarkson’s Farm episodes as a former Grand Tour and Top Gear presenter. 

Kaleb Cooper asks for reassurance from politicians that farmers like him are wanted and that it will still be possible to make a living from growing and rearing good food to high standards

Kaleb Cooper seeks assurance from politicians that farmers such as himself are valued and that it will still be possible for them to make a decent living from raising good quality food to high standards. 

Finally, the British public has a TV program that tells the truth about agriculture.

It is, above all, very hard work. It is stressful. It’s dangerous.

Kaleb Cooper and Jeremy Clarkson were honoured by the British Farming Awards for raising the profile of British farming

British Farming Awards honoured Kaleb Cooper & Jeremy Clarkson for raising awareness of British farming

I hope viewers can see the enthusiasm.

Farming to me – like so many others – is not a job, it’s a way of life.

My 13th birthday was the day my mom bought me three hens. I worked out that I could make £6-a-week profit from selling the eggs. Six months later, I had 450 eggs and a delivery round.

I went to school so that I could provide eggs for the teachers.

I love it – but you have to. Because farming is physically and mentally draining.

I’m now in my early 20s and I’ve set myself up as contractor – hiring myself out for specific jobs.

I can do many different tasks, including topping, mowing or hay turning, baling or moving muck, or any other work that involves tractor or loader work.

I often start work at 6am and finish at 1am.

When people ask me what time I finish, I answer that they will be done.

There are so many things that could go wrong. As viewers see week after week the main one is the weather.

We are completely dependent on something we cannot control, and that is hard.

Like many farmers in Britain, we didn’t get enough sun this year in the Cotswolds, so the crops were not drying properly.

Should we have let them rot and lose their yield? Should we have spent money on heating equipment to dry the crops in a barn? How do you calculate that?

Mr Cooper hopes that if shoppers understand more about how much hard work goes into farming they will be encouraged to buy British

Cooper hopes that consumers will be motivated to buy British products if they learn more about the hard work that goes into farming.

There are no monthly wages in farming and it all tends to come at once when a  job is finished or all the crops have been sold, leading to cashflow problems

There are no monthly wages in farming and it all tends to come at once when a  job is finished or all the crops have been sold, leading to cashflow problems

If you’re losing £200 an acre, that could be the difference between green and red, profit and loss, staying afloat or going under.

A mistake can cost you 25% of your yield. It’s not the same as running the hens while I was in school. Today, I have four tractors that cost me £150,000. That’s a lot. What if there is a problem? What happens if they do not pay?

Farming doesn’t pay a monthly wage. It usually comes at once after you have finished a job or sold your crops. There are also cashflow problems.

Then there’s the shortage of truckers – so spare parts might not arrive for weeks.

Add to this, steel prices are on the rise. A new tractor will cost me about 20% more.

It’s impossible for someone like myself to buy a farm. The land price has skyrocketed.

There’s always something wrong, whether it be machinery that doesn’t work or sheep who keep escaping no matter how much we try.

It’s also becoming more complicated financially every day.

Everything is up in the air. The Government wants us to plant clover and flowers to encourage wild birds.

Is that a farmer’s occupation? I went to college to learn how wheat is grown to feed the people of Britain.

One of the great things about Clarkson’s Farm is that it’s really, really showing people how hard it is – including Jeremy himself.

When he decided that he wanted to try farming, he thought he would just scatter some seeds and then watch as they grow into crops.

Farming relies on many external variables, whether it’s machinery that won’t work or sheep that keep on escaping

Farming depends on many external variables.

I can tell that he has been a bit shell-shocked at how hard he had to work.

I hope viewers can also see how much work and time it takes to make something as simple as bread.

Shoppers can purchase one for as low as 50p and not think about the effort that went into making it.

Vielleicht, more people will buy British if they are aware of all this.

Today, the average farmer in this country is just 61 years old. It’s not surprising.

Young people will be asking, “What’s in it for me?” What’s in it for me? And how much money will I have at the end of the year. It is not easy to find the right answers.

More than anything else, we need reassurance from politicians that farmers like us are wanted, that it will still be possible to make a living from growing and rearing good food to high standards – and that there’s a future for people like me.

British Farming Awards recently honored Kaleb Clarkson and Jeremy Clarkson in recognition of their efforts to raise the profile of British agriculture.

Clarkson’s Farm is available on Amazon Prime Video