Secretary of State Michael Gove spoke at his first NFU Farming Conference today (February 20).

Given the recent 25 Year Environment Plan there were no surprises. He announced a review of funding for farmers, spoke of the opportunities that Brexit may lead to and focussed on the value that food and drink producers contribute to the UK economy.

- On food production

"If we get policy right for those who produce our food we can ensure sustainable and balanced growth across the UK, we can ensure the investment is there in the future to make not just the countryside but the country as a whole flourish, we can enhance our environment, provide rewarding employment for future generations, improve the physical health and well-being of the population and shape a better world for our children and grandchildren.

"I fear that, in the past, the concerns of farmers and food producers were given insufficient weight in the design and implementation of UK government policy. Defra, and its predecessor department MAFF, were kept unjustifiably low in the Whitehall pecking order. That was a mistake.

"This failure was all the more lamentable because, as everyone here knows, the food and drink industry is Britain’s biggest manufacturing sector. It’s also Britain’s fastest-growing, with our export growth over the last few months having been driven by massive increases in food and drink sales.

"That growth has been enabled by Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the new opportunities it has given our exporters.

"As we leave the EU, we will have the chance to review how we use the immense buying power of the public sector to, at last, properly support British food producers."

- The future of funding

"Paying people simply according to the size of their landholding drives up the cost of land, which ties up capital unproductively and acts as a barrier to entry to new talent, impeding innovation and holding back productivity growth.

"We propose to progressively, transfer money away from BPS payments towards the payment of public money for the provision of public goods.

"We will guarantee all existing agri-environment agreements entered into before we leave the EU but, critically, we will also invite farmers, land owners and land managers to help us pilot new ways of investing in environmental enhancement and other public goods."

- Public goods

"I believe the most important public good we should pay for is environmental protection and enhancement.

"I believe we should invest in research and development to improve productivity and bring further environmental benefits.

"Public access to the countryside is another public good we value. Not that we should encourage everyone to ride or walk roughshod through working areas, but the more connected we all are to the countryside, the more we know and appreciate what’s involved in farming and food production, the more understanding there will be of the need to value and support what farmers do."

"I also believe investing in higher animal welfare standards and investing in improved training and education for those in agriculture and food production are clear public goods. We have a high baseline for animal health standards, which we will continue to enforce. However, we could also support industry-led initiatives to improve these standards, especially in cases where animal welfare remains at the legislative minimum. This may include pilot schemes that offer payments to farmers delivering higher welfare outcomes, or payments to farmers running trial approaches and technologies to improve animal welfare that are not yet an industry standard."

- Labour

"It’s already the case that the supply of labour from EU27 countries is diminishing as their economies recover and grow. So, in the future, we will need to look further afield. And think more creatively.

In the medium to long term we need, of course, to move away from a relatively labour intensive model of agriculture to a more capital intensive approach. But we can only do that if farming stays profitable. And we can only stay profitable with access to the right labour."

- Technology

"Whether its automation and machine learning, data science or gene-editing, improved tracking and traceability of livestock or new plant bio-security measures, there are specific innovations which will increase productivity across farming, bring food costs down for all, help us improve human and animal health and ensure we better protect the environment."

- Connectivity

"It’s ridiculous that you can get better mobile phone coverage in Kenya than in parts of Kent.

"Universal broadband and 4G coverage for all – which could be paid for by the money we no longer have to give to the EU - that is what we mean by taking back control."

- Quality

"We produce the world’s best food - our beef and lamb, cheese and milk, cod and salmon, soft fruit and salad vegetables - are recognised globally as the gold standard in fresh produce. One of the reasons why exports are growing so fast.

"And that’s precisely why we will not lower environmental or animal welfare standards as part of any new trade deals."

- In conclusion

"Driving reform in all these areas will ensure British farmers are better supported to do what they do better than any farmers in the world - produce the best quality food in the world to the highest standards - and it is time we started celebrating that."