13 September 2023
Backing British Farming – JE Spratt Farm Visit, Necton

Having grown up on my step-father’s farm, having had my first job at the NFU, and being the local MP for a largely rural constituency, I have always had a strong connection to our agricultural industries and am deeply proud to support our farming community – especially today on Back British Farming Day.

That’s why it was a pleasure to return to JE Spratt Farm at Necton this past Friday to meet with the team, as well as representatives of both British Sugar and the NFU, and discuss the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill and the huge opportunities it can, and will, afford British farming – with much of the ground-breaking science being pioneered right here in Norfolk by the world leading Norwich Research Park.

Having also been the first Minister for Life Science (launching the UK’s first Agri-Tech strategy) and now being Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation, this field of expertise is of great interest to me and one I am excited to see our great Norfolk farmers seeking to harness. By embracing some of our post-Brexit freedoms and opening up innovative, safe precision gene editing (not the Monsanto GM style), we can make the most of crop biological control systems to enable farmers to grow drought and disease-resistant crops, which in turn will boost yields, reduce our reliance on chemicals and in turn enhance farming sustainability and environmental biodiversity.

The importance of this issue was highlighted just three years ago when I visited the same farm to see how the Virus Yellows disease had been ravaging sugar beet crops across our region, reducing yields by up to 80%, driving up costs and putting the sugar industry in the UK under unprecedented pressure (see more here). Working with parliamentary colleagues, representatives across the sector and local farmers, we were successful then in securing the temporary derogation on the Cruiser SB seed treatment required to support the industry. However, by embracing precision gene editing as described above, such derogations could be consigned to the past – with far less, if any, chemicals needed to protect crops in future, greater yields and sustainability reducing the amount of resources (including water and land) needed to farm such crops, and improved natural biodiversity as well.

By pioneering in this field, we can lead the world in improving farming quality and standards, while also exporting that expertise to others around the globe too. We can also create thousands of new jobs and opportunities right here in the UK, spreading prosperity and enabling British farming to thrive.

To do this, we need to take the science being pioneered right here in our area and allow our farmers, who know their land best, to apply it with a common sense approach that delivers the food production we need and boosts the natural environment – rather than by allowing people with clipboards who don’t understand farming to weigh them down with bureaucracy.

I am deeply passionate about harnessing the benefits of the new bill and our post-Brexit freedoms to strengthen British farming standards and productivity – and look forward to working with the sector on this issue in the weeks and months ahead.

To learn more about my work on ‘Food, Farming and the Environment’, please visit my campaign page here.