Vital support from newly appointed Defra secretary George Eustice is needed as UK farmers get to grips with life outside the EU, industry leaders say.
Mr Eustice, who has served as a minister within the department since 2013, was appointed to Defra’s top job in a cabinet reshuffle on Thursday (13 February).
He is the first Defra secretary with direct farming experience – and the first to be promoted to the post from a ministerial position within the department.
His appointment is particularly significant because he is now responsible for implementing the post-Brexit policies he helped devise.
NFU president Minette Batters said Mr Eustice’s support would be crucial as British farming faced new opportunities and challenges outside the EU.
It would also be key in ensuring UK food values were not compromised in future trade deals with other countries, Ms Batters said.
“George Eustice is well respected within the farming community for his knowledge and understanding of farming but also his hard work as a minister in Defra over the past six years,” she said.
“I hope to welcome him on to my farm very soon to further discuss British farming’s potential as we start a life outside of the EU.”
Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president Mark Bridgeman said Mr Eustice’s long-standing experience was invaluable at a pivotal time for British agriculture.
“He will know the scale of the challenge ahead,” said Mr Bridgeman. “We will work closely with him to help achieve the full potential of the rural economy.”
Mr Eustice was attending an Agriculture Bill committee hearing on Thursday when he was summoned to Downing Street to be appointed Defra secretary by prime minister Boris Johnson.
NFU Scotland policy director Jonnie Hall, who was giving evidence to the committee, said: “It was little surprise to those in the committee room when he was called away.”
Mr Hall added: “We would be keen to quickly engage on the great number of pressing issues we have that will benefit both Scottish and UK farming sectors.”
These included upholding the high standards held across the UK farming sectors and supporting calls for the establishment of an independent standards commission.
“We also need to nail down the detail on the future multi-annual funding for agriculture – and Scotland’s share of that,” he said.
Commonly agreed regulatory frameworks needed to be put in place, Mr Hall said, to effectively preserve the integrity of the internal UK market.