Opening address by Deputy Kirsten Morel, Minister for Economic Development, Tourism, Sport and Culture , to the Jersey Farming Conference, 10 November 2022
‘The fact that today’s conference has been fully subscribed I think demonstrates just how important this industry is to our island.
Farming is an intrinsic part of Jersey’s identity. It has shaped not only our beautiful countryside and landscape but also our Island’s heritage, its culture and its international identity.
I was struck recently by a quote I came across from a letter to Friedrich Engels who was intending to visit the island in 1885 saying “What thrice double asses are those Jerseymen to destroy their orchards and turn their beautiful island into one monstrous potato-patch”.
How wrong he was; not only have our innovative farmers been vindicated with the global success of Jersey Royals as a crop but the côtils and hedgerows that criss-cross our countryside are synonymous with our Island’s natural beauty.
Products like Jersey Royals and Jersey Milk are a key part of our Island’s international identity, indeed, I spoke recently to a farmer from North Carolina who congratulated Jersey on our work in Rwanda where the Jersey cow is a leading ambassador of our Island. What clearer example of the overall value of our agricultural sector can you ask for?
Despite its historic significance to our island and the enormous value it brings, there has been a steady reduction in support for farming over recent decades. Successive governments have drawn down Jersey’s support for agriculture at the same time as neighbouring jurisdictions have increased their own.
As a result, the industry has been competing on an unlevel playing field and the pressures this brings have now grown to a crescendo.
This is a trend we must reverse if we expect to maintain a sustainable rural economy on the Island and preserve both this industry and the Island we know for future generations.
Earlier this year, as Assistant Minister, I was pleased to present the Economic Framework for the Rural Environment; this strategy provides a foundation to help deliver additional government funding towards our agricultural sector as well as a longer term vision of increasing sustainability.
Now, as Minister, I am determined to build upon this to direct renewed focus from government towards this important sector and support businesses big and small across our entire rural economy.
We are proposing in this year’s Government Plan, one and a half million pounds in additional support for the rural economy in 2023, more than half of which has been found since July.
This will bring the government’s total support for this sector to over three million pounds for the first time in over a decade. That’s less than 0.5% of government expenditure but it represents a big step forward.
We are still well short of comparable jurisdictions, but it does reflect my commitment to begin correcting the downward trend in support we have seen in recent decades.
As many of you will know, the Government Plan provides a flexible roadmap for growth over the long-term and while it is the case that this year’s Government Plan currently shows a slightly lower level of new growth from 2024 onwards – I want to make it very clear that these figures are by no means set in stone and I will be pushing tirelessly to see that the gains we have made in 2023 are not only cemented but also built upon in 2024 and beyond.
Know that I will keep making the case for this industry and that I am committed to seeing government funding rise substantially during the tenure of this Council of Ministers.
It is not too late for government to step up its support for agriculture but we cannot leave it any later.
I know that the last twelve months have been particularly challenging for the industry with increasing overheads across the board. Rising fuel and fertiliser costs, an increased wage bill and record temperatures this summer have put pressure on the industry and do paint a difficult picture for 2023.
There are also systemic challenges coming down the road, both in succession planning and the availability of land but also rising interest rates and the cost of living crisis which are increasingly being felt by everyone.
Last weekend I visited a farm and saw the fertiliser that has arrived to be used next year. Not only has the price increased dramatically but payment was expected now, not at the end of the year as was previously the case. This creates enormous cash flow issues which we must help you to address.
On top of this, I know that you have absorbed many costs without passing them onto consumers but this cannot go on. It is not a sustainable situation.
Indeed, for the first time I can remember, Jersey milk is now on a par or even cheaper than many UK equivalents.
Yet despite these pressures, the agriculture sector has demonstrated time and time again its huge value to Jersey.
Farming has always been essential to protecting our natural environment and countryside and I think this role is increasingly being recognised and respected by Islanders as we look to reduce our carbon footprint.
Critically, you have led the island’s economy in seizing opportunities to improve productivity, expand mechanisation and embrace new technologies. All of which have seen you deliver enormous efficiency gains which must be rewarded.
In the last few years we’ve increasingly seen our island’s lack of resilience when it comes to food security and while I accept that we will never be wholly self-sufficient, we must recognise the fundamental truth that it is this sector that puts food on our supermarket shelves.
These are just three areas which successive government’s have made priority areas and at the same time, failed to recognise the real success stories in carbon offsetting, sustainability, productivity and food security which you have championed.
This needs to change and I will lead that change in government’s attitude to farming.
I want government to step up to support the industry in many ways, not only financially, because that’s the only way we’ll be able to help younger islanders and entrepreneurs to see a future in farming.
With our new rural support scheme and rural economic framework we now have the tools to effectively direct funds to the sector to provide public funding in recognition of and as a reward for the public goods which are delivered by all those people working in the rural economy.
This new system will be inclusive, equitable and accessible and for the first time in 15 years, we’ll be able to provide support to growers of protected crops, poultry farmers and small holders because agriculture isn’t just about cows and potatoes or large farms, it is a multi-faceted industry that needs to be supported in all areas.
I want you to know that in me you have an advocate who will champion agriculture in the States and around the Council of Minister’s table. I cannot and will not be complacent.
When I look at farming in Jersey, I see an ancient industry that has constantly reinvented itself and moved with the times. It is a sector that has innovated, changed and improved to the extent that it provides every single islander with value, regardless of whether they buy local produce or not.
That value can be seen in every well-maintained hedgerow, in every financial services advert that features a Jersey cow, in every UK TV show that highlights Jersey Royals or indeed, every American farmer who is staggered by the work of the Jersey herd in less developed countries. We all gain from the work that you do and finally, that is being recognised.
It is time for Government to step up and back you to the hilt because your future success is also Jersey’s future success.
Later, you will hear my colleague John Vautier, talk about the new inclusive, equitable and accessible system that we believe will help the industry move into the future.
I think this is an exciting step forward. I hope you will agree and I look forward to hearing your thoughts over the coming days and weeks.