South West England

Driving ambition to link tourism, food and farming

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THE SOUTH West of England is at the forefront of linking the food, farming and tourism industries, the chairman of English Food and Farming Partnership (EFFP) Jeremy Pope claimed when opening the South West Excellence conference.

The former deputy chairman of the South West Regional Development Agency said a lot of business growth recently involved a dynamic connectivity between the three sectors.

He added that this arose five years ago, out of the foot-and-mouth crisis. The spread of the disease was disastrous for the farming sector as a whole, but was also a watershed period in the South West, where many people learned to foster a self-belief in their own destiny with a 'can do' mentality.

Some 3,000 food and drink enterprises were located in the region by the time the disease was contained, 65% of which was the result of farm diversi?cation. Pope, who sits on the Implementation Group - which oversees delivery of the Government's Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food - said the food market was enjoying continued growth, but not always at farm level.

In the past 15 years, total consumer spend on food rose from £62bn to £111bn. Over this time, household expenditure on food rose by £23bn and on eating out by £26bn. However, the value of agricultural output has remained static at £14.6bn.

But the value of food produced and sold at farm level had remained stagnant in the same period, said Pope, rising only slightly from £14.5bn to £15bn. But EFFP had developed business structures to create and capture more of the market for farmers, he added. The attitude of legislators and planners to rural development had been less than helpful in moving the sector forward at times, said Pope. Redundant farm buildings can be used for more than just holiday cottages, he insisted. What was needed were fewer strategies from Defra - less gold plating of legislation, and less bossiness - plus a more positive attitude from the industry.

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