By Nigel Hunt
BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - The British government will publish a consultation paper on future agriculture policy "very shortly", Environment Minister Michael Gove said on Tuesday, as farmers demanded more clarity on their prospect after the country quits the European Union.
"Our consultation paper will outline how we plan to change things more broadly. The paper will outline a clear direction of travel on how we can better deliver support," Gove said at the annual conference of National Farmers Union. "But it is a consultation, not a conclusion."
British farmers have been growing increasingly impatient at the government’s failure to provide clear guidance on its plans for supporting agriculture after the UK leaves the EU.
"For too long, ministers have claimed to have a plan. So we ask again, let's hear that plan," Meurig Raymond, president of the farmers union, told the group's annual conference.
"We have 400 days until we leave the EU. We have a lot less time than that to get a trade deal agreed. Time is running out," he said.
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.
The consultation paper will only cover England. Agriculture in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the devolved administrations of those states.
One of Britain's largest berry producers, Haygrove in Ledbury, Herefordshire, said earlier this month that it was relocating some raspberry and blueberry growing to China because of uncertainty over migrant labor caused by Brexit.
"When I hear of a large fruit farmer in Herefordshire thinking of exporting his business to China, that is when I get nervous, that is why we need that commitment, why we need to know (on future trade and migrant labor arrangements)," Raymond said.
Gove said he had been discussing the labor issue with colleagues in the government, but he added that decisions on migration were ultimately decided by the Home Office.
Raymond said it was also vital that Britain not walk away from the EU, by far its biggest market for agricultural products.
"We must have frictionless trade with the EU. Everything else, including the final shape of any domestic agricultural policy, is dependent on that," he said.
Gove said there was a strong incentive for Britain and the EU to agree a good trade deal.
"We want to continue to have tariff-free and as frictionless as possible trade with the European Union, and it is in their interests for that to work for the EU as well," he said.
(Reporting by Nigel Hunt, editing by Larry King)