Raymond said it is vital to have a set goals for whichever government is in charge of Defra's food and farming plan, adding: "Government and ministers come and go. Farm businesses do not." He urged Defra to publish the much anticipated plan as soon as possible, but delegates were told that it will not now be released until after the EU referendum in June.
"Declining productivity equates to declining competitiveness and for consumers, more worryingly, a slide in the nation's self-sufficiency," he said. "For most farm businesses the threat is more fundamental still. Profit is seeping out of the sector and investment with it, not helped by the double whammy of increasing labour costs and intense pressure on retail prices."
He added: "The question farmers are asking me is whether this plan will deliver for UK farming, reversing years of political neglect and economic investment, to become not just profitable but more productive and competitive in the market place."
On the issue of agricultural research, expected to be a significant part of the plan, Raymond said: "I expect it to set out how this knowledge can benefit UK producers and consumers - and not be exported. The 25-year plan must show how EU regulation and UK agencies will change to allow farms access to developments like novel breeding techniques, world-class plant protection products and other new technologies."
He also called for the plan "to set out how to achieve a fairer, more transparent supply chain", adding: "This should mean a bigger role for the groceries code adjudicator and recognise the industry's voluntary codes, urge the whole supply chain to follow these terms and not treat them as fair-weather agreements."
The adjudicator has called for suppliers to supermarkets to respond to the third annual survey of the groceries sector, aiming to identify which code-related issues they currently face. "This will be an important source of information for the adjudicator about current retailer practices and changes over the past 12 months, and will help the adjudicator focus her attention for the year ahead," said the adjudicator's office.
All information provided is treated in strict confidence. All answers are collated and analysed by YouGov and respondents are not identified to the adjudicator without their prior consent. The survey will be open until 29 April, with results presented at the Groceries Code Adjudicator Conference on 27 June - see www.yougov.com/gca.
Meanwhile, a prominent food policy expert has called on the Government to put horticulture at the heart of its 25-year plan in order both to reduce the food trade gap and to benefit public health. In a new report from the inter-university Food Research Collaboration (FRC), professor of food policy at City University London Tim Lang, together with FRC research fellow Dr Victoria Schoen, document a policy mismatch between declining UK fresh-produce supply and public health advice to eat more of it.
The report, Horticulture in the UK: Potential for Meeting Dietary Guideline Demands, claims that the UK area used for growing vegetables has declined by 26 per cent, and the area growing fruit by 35 per cent, in the period 1985 to 2014, even though fruit and vegetables are by far the greatest source of imports in the UK food system. Indeed, the trade gap in horticulture has risen to £7.8bn a year, comprising about 37 per cent of the UK's total food trade gap.
It calls for a "reboot" of regional strategies in areas such as the South West, which used to have sizeable fresh-produce sectors, including a review of planning and financial regulations to "rebuild bioregional resilience".
The two authors say: "We worry that Government strategy looks a bit like allowing Europe to feed the UK with good healthy produce - fruit and veg - while our food industry exports less desirable elements - alcohol and over-processed, sugary, fatty foods. Actually, horticulture offers something relatively simple to improve matters - grow more here but make it sustainable production only."
Lang added: "The public says it wants to eat British. Chefs encourage it. But the Government isn't listening. Its message is more about exports than about growing more here. We think this risky."
NFU - Chair appointed onto horticulture board
Worcestershire apple and hop grower Ali Capper has been elected as the new chair of the NFU’s horticulture and potatoes board. She succeeds Yorkshire carrot grower Guy Poskitt, who takes over Capper’s former role as board vice-chair.
Capper has already been a prominent campaigner on industry issues including the forthcoming National Living Wage, relations with supermarkets and the rest of the supply chain, and the need to boost fresh-produce consumption.
She has also called for British apple growers to collaborate to exploit niche high-value markets, including exports, given the low returns available in mainstream markets — a conclusion that she drew from completing a two-year Nuffield scholarship in which she studied best practice in several producer countries.
Capper has also campaigned for greater awareness of British hops in the brewing industry as part of her ongoing involvement in the British Hop Association.