The future of Greater Lincolnshire’s food and farming sector came under the spotlight in Spalding this morning (Friday) where the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership staged its latest Big Debate.
The debate at Roythorne’s Solicitors brought together farmers, food industry leaders and politicians to debate the big issues facing the agrifood sector.
The Greater Lincolnshire LEP has ambitious plans to double the value of the sector by 2030, and the debate looked at how this could be achieved.
Security Minister and MP for South Holland and The Deepings John Hayes, pictured centre, kicked off the debate by presenting an optimistic view for the sector post-Brexit.
He said he was “not that fussed about the Single Market” and insisted businesses already knew how to trade with countries outside the EU. But he added that the UK and Greater Lincolnshire would need to produce more and import less food in future.
He also said he had warned businesses for years about an over-reliance on migrant labour. “I’ve always thought that it was risky, and it’s definitely risky now,” he said, adding that free movement of labour in the UK and the EU is bound to form a central part of the UK’s Brexit negotiations.
Mark Tinsley, a farmer and Greater Lincolnshire LEP Board Director, identified three challenges facing the agrifood sector: the need to upskill the labour force, increased automation accelerated by the introduction of the National Living Wage, and the need to improve infrastructure, from road and rail links to power supply and telecommunications.
Following the two opening speeches questions were taken from the floor by a panel which also included agricultural consultant Martin Collison, Ben Carrigan of Moy Park, Duncan Worth of QV Foods and Lee Juniper from FreshLinc.
Questions covered how to stimulate demand for Greater Lincolnshire produce, how to increase productivity, the necessity for improvements to the road network, and the importance of promoting Greater Lincolnshire and its produce.
A second Big Food Debate will take place in northern Lincolnshire later this year. Places are still available for the next Big Debate will be held at Belton Woods near Grantham on Tuesday 19th July and will discuss Greater Lincolnshire’s Devolution Deal.