Liz Truss – 2015 Speech at Agrihive on UK Businesses Exporting Food

The speech made by Liz Truss, the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, at the Agrihive Conference on 18 November 2015.

We have some of the most exciting and inventive people in our food and farming industry in this country. And one of the things we’re doing is tonight, we’re launching Great British Food, which is a new campaign celebrating those pioneers, but also talking about how we can get the message out about how exciting British food is, how exciting British farming is, and what we are doing here in our industry to make sure that we can compete internationally, as well as make sure we’re buying selling and growing more British food here in our own country. And there’s been a lot of work in the dairy area.

I know a lot of exciting innovations. Only a couple of weeks ago when I announced the extension of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, I visited the Wensleydale Creamery, and I think it’s a brilliant example of a business which operates within a national park. It succeeded in expanding and it does very good job with local farmers, so they are supplying the milk to the dairy. It also promotes itself as a visitor attraction and it’s attracting increasing visitors in the Yorkshire Dales.

In fact I first came across the people from Wensleydale in Paris, when they were at the CL trade fair and their stand was being mobbed by Japanese buyers wanting to buy into that unique product from Yorkshire. It’s a protected product and I think success stories like Wensleydale who’ve now launched their first yoghurt product. This shows what can happen and where dairy businesses can succeed in the future. I’ve said before at the moment we’ve got a big opportunity on products, we still import the majority of our butter and our cheese. We import 40,000 tonnes of cheddar every year which after all, is a British product kicked off here in the UK.

So I think there are opportunities, of course we know that many farmers are struggling at the moment and we’ve worked hard at a European level to secure that additional funding, which will be paid in December. We’re also making sure that the BPS payments go out on time which I know many farmers are concerned about, but what we also need to do whilst making sure we retain the strength of our industry in the short term is building up those longer term opportunities.

So we’re working at looking at the grocery chain adjudicator now at a European level to reflect the nature of the food chain and the way it goes beyond national boundaries. We’re looking at futures markets in dairy to help farmers plan for the future. And we’re consulting on tax averaging over five years to help farmers maintain those long term businesses. We’re also very focused on exports and we’ve seen a 60% increase in dairy exports since 2009. I think there are many more opportunities out there. I’ve highlighted Wensleydale, but we’ve got a whole host of dairy companies coming with us next week on our visit to China on our trade mission to China.

So there are lots of opportunities but I think an event like this Agrihive, that really involves the leaders of the industry. And those working with the industry is really important to get those ideas out there to look at the pioneering efforts across British dairy, because I’m absolutely clear that dairy is a core part of our food and farming industry. You know, we need to not just maintain it for the long term, but also help build up the industry and I think it is the pioneers. It’s the people with ideas, with new ways of doing things, to make sure that we can maintain our productivity, our competitiveness, and really win in those international markets.

It’s really important of course, the government is a very big procurer of food. Last year we launched the Bonfield report, which is all about making it easier for public sector bodies like schools and hospitals to buy British food so they can now look at things like where it’s from, is it local, they can look at the quality of the product, rather than just going on the price and that is having an impact. We are seeing more British dairy bought across the public sector. And I want see more progress on that in the next few years.

So we’re setting an example in government. I think there’s more we can do across the country to support our dairy industry and we are in discussions with supermarkets as well about that, but also, the industry has a major role to play in putting itself forward in grasping those potential. opportunities both here and overseas. But thank you very much for having me along today. It’s a great innovation and I hope to see you all soon. Thank you