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This Back British Farming Day Michael Gove, Defra Secretary of State, has said that UK’s farmers, "the original friends of the earth" are doing “a wonderful job” but they must be “more efficient, more productive and more competitive”.

In an interview with British Farmer and Grower, the NFU membership magazine, Mr Gove responded to the declining figures of food produced in the UK (currently 60%) by saying that the government is encouraging collaboration, skills support and investment in scientific innovation to enable precision farming or new techniques to increase supply.

While the government wants yield to go up, its immigration policy and concerns sparked by Brexit has resulted in this year’s harvest seeing 17% fewer seasonal agricultural workers and poultry farmers struggling to attract skilled staff.

Addressing this issue, Mr Gove drew a distinction between agricultural workers from the EU settling in the UK and those that work only specific seasons.

He said: “We know that there are EU citizens who are currently here, we want to stress that they are welcome to stay, because they play a hugely important and valuable role.”

“Obviously there’s a case to be made for making migration more sustainable, bringing down the numbers here permanently, but when it comes to seasonal workers who are coming here to augment their income at particular times of year, I think there’s a widespread acceptance that we’ve had seasonal agricultural work schemes in the past and we can have new schemes in the future that will ensure farmers have access to the labour they need but also that the number of people coming here to settle is at a manageable level.”

Mr Gove emphasised his commitment to free trade and believes that the high standards of the food produced by UK farmers is the “way we win.”

When considering a US trade deal and concerns over chlorinated chicken and GM foods Mr Gove said: “It may be the case that the agricultural lobby in the US want a dilution of standards in pursuit of their interest but we will defend ours, and it’s critical that we ensure there is no watering down of standards because those are the hallmarks that people expect when we buy British, that animals are being reared in an appropriate way, in a humane fashion, and the environment has been respected throughout the process.

“We don’t want to see a race to the bottom, what we absolutely want to see is us competing at the top of the value chain.”

To those farmers that voted for Brexit and are expecting less red tape as a result, Mr Gove said: “There are vital environmental protections that have come in as a result of being a member of the EU, but the way in which we sometimes implement stuff in this department is frankly far too bureaucratic and sometimes we pile on the individual farmer, requirements to prove the same thing again and again in a way that is not really risk based.“

When asked if raising quality standards to ensure that British food is considered the best could result in more, rather than less, bureaucracy Mr Gove responded: “I think we can have higher standards, but the process by which you secure compliance or inspect or audit can be radically changed. At the moment the way in which RPA and Natural England police payments is far too bureaucratic."

In closing Mr Gove said: “I’ll do everything I can to look at how we can drive sustainable intensification, how we can help transfer technology so we can make sure people can grow more and sell more.

“They are the original friends of the earth and I want to make sure that people appreciate the environmental benefits that we gain from the people who are responsible for the food we eat and countryside we love.”

NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “We welcome the secretary of state’s commitments ahead of Back British Farming Day. This support will be critical for the farming sector as Brexit negotiations get underway.

“It’s vital the secretary of state stays true to these commitments and encourages the wider cabinet to champion British farming and ensures agriculture is a central part of the political conversation during Brexit negotiations. We must ensure farming in this country has a thriving future outside of the EU.”