'Farming sector should grow and export more'
Food Matters, a new project aimed at supporting the growth of agricultural businesses in Lincolnshire, has secured Government approval.
It was launched at the Epic Centre on the Showground north of Lincoln to coincide with the visit of two 'men from the ministry'.
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs director general Peter Unwin and chief operating officer Ian Trenholm both praised the initiative.
It was launched by West Lindsey District Council before an audience of local fifth and sixth-generation farmers and food producers.
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They were representing the district's 3,700 agri-food businesses and more than 27,000 employees.
The project aims to create opportunities in partnership with businesses to develop skills and employment through workshops and one-to-one support.
"Food Matters project is a visionary approach for a local authority," Mr Unwin said.
"There's so much rich agricultural land in Lincolnshire, it's very important to get it right in terms of growing the local economy."
Mr Trenholm said: "Having everyone in the room ready to work together is a recipe for success.
"The economy is still struggling – but we see farming and the agricultural sector as a real growth area. We should be growing and exporting more food.
"What we're interested in is how we can work with farmers to make sure that happens.
"The more food we generate locally the better, it's good for jobs and it's good for growth."
West Lindsey's head of strategic growth Grant Lockett said: "We recognise that we need to lead the way in driving economic progress.
"We are committing to working more closely with existing businesses to encourage expansion and support new start-up businesses.
"We can use our expertise to support them to create jobs and train staff to help boost our economy."
Council leader Burt Keimach said: "Within our 500 square miles we produce a sizeable percentage of the food for this country.
"This was an opportunity for us as a council to listen to local businesses and know what the concerns are locally and to hear from two of the most senior civil servants in Defra. They said they want to do follow up work with us and we will be taking this offer up with further meetings."
West Lindsey chief executive Manjeet Gill said: "I'm very passionate about the rural economy and I think its value is underestimated."
Meryl Ward is a pig producer who also runs the award-winning Uncle Henry's farm shop at Grayingham Grange, near Gainsborough.
"I want Defra to realise West Lindsey is a 'can do' area," she said.
"We have got some thriving businesses and a few areas we would like some help and assistance. We want businesses to achieve national success but keep their roots in Lincolnshire. The challenge is how we can collaboratively realise the potential of farming in the county."
John Burnett, from Hemswell-based farmers' co-operative Woldgrain Storage, said: "The council has badged itself as the entrepreneurial authority and my impression is that's exactly what they have been."