DEFRA Secretary of State Owen Paterson has acknowledged the hard year which farming has had, citing the ongoing challenges of flooding, Schmallenberg, high feed costs and bovine TB.
When he arrived at the Oxford Farming Conference last week, he was greeted by a small number of farmers protesting against the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board.
The key themes of his speech were farming's contribution to the economy, wider society and to the environment.
Referencing the way the British public got behind Team GB last summer, and echoing the NFU’s Farming Delivers campaign, he said: "By buying British, we boost the rural economy and enjoy some of the best quality produce in the world."
The Secretary of State was keen to highlight the positives by reassuring farmers that his government department was striving to put measures in place to create a structure for rural businesses to thrive. He said: "Farming in this country successfully produces food for 63.5m people and supports industries that add nearly £90m to the UK economy.
"We are investing £530m in superfast broadband for rural areas by 2015 and overseeing £150m programme to get mobile phone masts into rural areas.
“We are also investing more than £2.3bn in flood prevention."
Mr Paterson emphasised that the reduction of regulatory burden will continue, in line with the Farming Regulation Taskforce recommendations.
“I am determined that we should move towards a system of earned recognition,” he said.
British exports and the opportunities they afford now in the global marketplace should be seized, he said, adding: "British food is increasingly marketable abroad thanks to its excellent reputation. Russia has just lifted its ban on British beef and lamb exports, a deal potentially worth £80m over the next three years.
“China has also opened its doors to British pork, worth £50m a year."
On CAP reform, Mr Paterson made a commitment in his speech to attend all Agricultural Council meetings in person.
Other topics included putting a value on the environmental work farmers do, the ongoing GM debate and tackling bovine TB.
He thanked the NFU's leadership, staff and members for the huge amount of work they put in on the ground, despite the cull’s postponement at the eleventh hour.
In summing up, he reiterated the vital role farming plays in society.
He said: “We are determined to put in place the conditions that will enable the industry to capitalise on the very real opportunities.”