Food and farming minister Lord Rooker delivered a ringing endorsement of the importance of farming to Britain's food supply and the climate change agenda at the NFU's Annual Conference in Birmingham on Tuesday.
Lord Rooker said that "farming and farmers are central to our lives in this country", predicting a "massive increase in demand for food worldwide, whether it is niche market or mass markets". This offered Britain's farmers the chance of becoming "real world leaders".
However, it was the climate change agenda that had done most to change perceptions of the importance of farming within Defra, said Lord Rooker.
"The penny has finally dropped. Two magic words are the cause of that: climate change. The deliverer of whatever is done about climate change is the person looking after the land and the livestock."
"You", he told his farming audience, "are central to the biggest single issue facing our planet."
Lord Rooker also spoke about the Year of Food and Farming, which starts in September, the need for 'light-touch, proportionate, transparent and effective regulation' and the government's commitment to helping new entrants.
"We've got a commitment to farming as a government", he claimed. We're trying to encourage new entrants, and trying to encourage some of the older farmers to make way for new entrants."
However, the minister accepted that if the Government wanted to encourage innovative approaches to the future of farming, which involved changes to farming businesses, it could not at the same time allow the planning system to snuff out those opportunities.
"We've got to deal with some of the restrictions that apply at local level", he said. "We're working on that in Defra and will be putting a package together of quite modest measures, but which could make a difference. Homes for retired farmers are a good idea if it makes space for new entrants to come in."