Politicians are increasingly using the Oxford Farming Conference as a platform to set the agenda for the agricultural year.
Food security is just as important to Britain’s future as energy security, Defra secretary Hilary Benn told snowbound Oxford delegates this week.
It was important to talk farming up, not down, he added, unveiling the government’s Food 2030 strategy.
The strategy is ambitious. It sets out the challenge of maintaining a secure food supply at a time of rapid population growth and climate change – and in the wake of price rises following droughts and increases in the cost of oil.
Critics are right to point out the document is short on detail. But farm leaders are also right when they say that the change in language used by the government when dealing with agricultural issues is to be welcomed.
Gone are the dark days when ministers regarded farming as a problem industry. And gone too are the barely concealed looks of disdain from politicians such as former Defra secretary Margaret Beckett.
As NFU president Peter Kendall has pointed out, the strategy suggests Defra has finally grasped the complex challenges faced by producers.
Farmers, the rest of the food chain and the government must work together to increase productivity while working to minimise the impact of agriculture on the environment.
With a general election just months away, this year is almost certain to bring a change in government. But the challenges faced by farmers cannot be changed so easily. We all know the problems, now we must find the solutions.