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Farming sector 'defies recession'
British food and drink exports have grown to nearly £19 billion, Farming minister George Eustice is set to claim.
In a speech to the National Farmers' Union (NFU) Conference in Birmingham later today, he points out that 112 new export markets opened up last year, leading to an increase of nearly £180 million in the food and drink sector to non-EU markets.
Mr Eustice is set to claim that Government action to cut red tape, get the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) right, encourage innovation and safeguard plant and animal health have helped potential growth.
In his speech, themed around the Government's efforts to back long-term growth in the rural economy, he says: "Our long-term economic plan builds a stronger, more competitive, economy and secures a better future for Britain by helping spread growth and prosperity all over our country.
"For years, the rural economy and farms were ignored. Today, the Government is doing everything it can to support them. And that means more jobs, more opportunities and more financial security for hard working people."
His speech on the first day of the conference comes as new research suggests that Britain's farming sector has defied the recession in recent years by contributing an additional £8.6 billion to the UK economy.
The report, entitled Backing the Business of British Farming, shows UK agriculture's contribution to the economy increased by 54% between 2007 and 2012.
It also claims that food and drink is now the UK's fourth largest export sector, having grown by 2.5% in the first half of 2013.
NFU president Peter Kendall is expected to give further details of the report's findings in his opening conference speech later today.
Speaking ahead of the event, Mr Kendall said: "The achievements shown in this report prove that farming has been delivering for Britain's economy despite the challenges thrown at us over the past couple of years - heavy rain, drought, unseasonable snow and in recent weeks we have all seen the impacts of flooding across the country.
"We are growing businesses. We are creating jobs.
"If the Government is looking for a sector to kick-start growth and rebalance the economy then they should start by looking at agriculture."
The report found that agriculture contributed an additional £8.6 billion more to the UK economy between 2008 and 2012 than it did from 2003 to 2007.
Flood-hit farmers are also set to hear how they can get a share of the £10 million pledged by Government to help their businesses cope with the devastation caused by the disaster.
Mr Eustice is to announce details of the New Farming Recovery Fund at the the conference.
The scheme, announced by Prime Minister David Cameron on February 11, opens on February 28 to provide assistance with uninsured losses to get farms into production again.
Pressing problems such as restoring productive grassland, restoring productive arable and horticultural land, reopening farm vehicle access to fields and improving agricultural drainage are all issues which are due to be covered by the fund.
Under the scheme, all farmers affected by the flooding will be able to apply for emergency funding of up to £5,000, covering up to 100% of business costs. This is to ensure they can continue growing crops and grazing livestock. The majority of the fund will be reserved for farm businesses whose farms remain flooded. Unlike the initial grant, the upper limit of this funding will be set when the impact on these longer term losses from flood damage are clearer, once the flood waters recede.
Some help may also come in the form of the £10 million Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme will offer eligible farmers grants of up to £35,000 on schemes designed to make businesses more resilient.