By Commissioner Kate Greenberg
Last week I returned from the United Kingdom after my first international agricultural mission as Commissioner.
Recently, we received an invitation from the U.K. Ambassador to the United States to help represent our country’s agriculture to our friends across the pond.
Colorado had the honor of being one of five states represented and the only western state. The other commissioners and assistant commissioners representing their states on the mission came from Arkansas, North Carolina, New York, and Kentucky.
We were also joined by the executive director of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA); minority staff directors of both the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees; and hosted by the wonderful team from the Embassy.
The goal of the mission was to strengthen the bonds between our two countries and explore opportunities for expanding business and trade. A “diplomatic trade mission,” as I’ve been referring to it. The mission was non-partisan and included representatives from both parties.
We started by visiting agricultural operations in East Anglia, a predominant growing region in southeast England. Here we visited G’s Farm, a 17,000 hectare family-owned operation spanning numerous countries, including the U.S. To get a sense of scale, G’s produces 60-65% winter leafy greens for the U.K. and 80% of the radishes.
Like every farmer we met, G’s spoke frequently about their environmental stewardship. The U.K. has a goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, and agriculture, like here in the U.S. is a part of that solution. The farmers often spoke about how they are not only farmers of food, but are becoming farmers of carbon, as well.
But part of the challenge, again much like here, will be the ability of the smaller operators to adapt.
We stopped along the way to pay our respects at the Cambridge American Cemetery where thousands of U.S. soldiers and civilians were laid to rest during and after WWII.
Later in the evening we enjoyed tasting raspberry gin from a local distillery. The spirit and beverage relationship between the U.S. and U.K. is important; hopefully one day you might be able to try Pinkster Gin here.
Our travels then brought us back to London for a day of meetings with members of the government and Parliament.
Our first meeting took place in the Churchill Room at the Department of International Trade (DIT) with the U.K.’s Chief Negotiator for Trade, Graham Floater. Here much of the focus was once again on climate change and the need for ingenuity in both technology and policy to tackle this critical issue of our time.
We then walked over to the headquarters of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA; equivalent to our USDA) where we had the opportunity to meet with Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice (equivalent to our Secretary of Agriculture).
We talked about consumer sentiments in both countries and the growing consumer-driven demand for climate-smart food and ag products, as well as consumer’s increasing focus on animal welfare, sustainability, and food safety.
I shared how in Colorado we are seeing and thus anticipating similar shifts in demand. But where other countries are being driven by regulation, we are pushing forward through voluntary and incentive-based tools wherever we can.
For example, our work here in Colorado creating the voluntary Soil Health Program, launching the Agricultural Drought and Climate Resilience Office, and advancing renewable technology, including agrivoltaic systems are all farmer- and rancher-led efforts to innovate for the future while advancing stewardship, profitability and resilience.
Later, Honourable Minister Peggy Mordaunt generously toured us through Parliament with time spent observing debates. Minister Mordaunt has served in various leadership positions, including Minister of State for Trade Policy and most recently as Secretary of Defense.
About an hour after that, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the joint chambers of Parliament. We watched the address from our hotel down the street. Ukrainian flags flew above government buildings, members of Parliament wore the flag on their lapels, and people walked the streets wrapped in the flag. We were witnessing history in the making.
Our friends from North Carolina brought our hosts gifts of NC sweet potato vodka. They reminded folks everywhere that now is the time to choose “gluten-free and Putin-free” beverages.
After a day in the city, we headed west toward the bucolic countryside of the Cotswolds.
There we met with the family farmers of Manor Farm. This 4th generation suckler operation (calves suckle seven months instead of weaning) raises South Devon cows in Gloucestershire and has seen the financial benefit in rotational grazing and climate-smart ag. They are taking advantage of consumer awareness to grow into the direct-to-consumer market and are establishing a farm rental to diversify revenue - a great place to stay if you’re ever in the Cotswolds!
From there (and after a fantastic lunch at another centuries-old country pub) we visited Binley Farm, a sheep operation also diversifying into agritourism. In England, there are “right to roam” laws, which means walkers and bikers pass through farm property daily. At times this can cause tension, but it is also driving producers to consider how they engage consumers in new and creative ways.
Our evening took us to Bath, where we toured the Roman Baths and enjoyed yet another fantastic meal.
Yeo Valley & Salisbury
Toward the end of our trip we made a stop at Yeo Valley Organic, the U.K.’s largest organic brand. Yeo Valley (located in the Yeo Valley) began in 1994 as a small family dairy in Somerset and has grown into a diversified, vertically integrated operation with over 1000 employees, 250 farmers on contract, and the 12th biggest online grocery brand.
Lastly, we couldn’t leave the Southwest without a visit to the Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge. What incredible sights and structures to behold.
Reflections from travels back home
The UK is the largest foreign investor in Colorado and is also Colorado’s largest export market in Europe for agricultural products. On Tuesday of this week, the U.S. and U.K. announced a new agreement striking U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum and lifting U.K. tariffs on various U.S. exports, including whiskey and other farm products.
It was also clear from our trip that consumers are shaping the landscape of food production, and the successful businesses are those that adapt to changing consumer demand.
Russia’s war against Ukraine is an abomination; it also is having major impacts on global supply chains, access to and the dramatic rise in cost of fertilizer and other inputs, and food security as these countries are major producers within the global supply chains. This trip reinforced how important our allies are, and the critical importance of our own domestic production. It is not one or the other.
Lastly, diplomatic trips such as this are critical. I look forward to representing Colorado on more of these around the world. We built and reinforced relationships that will serve not only our state but also our country. And of course, it’s important to always do this with good food and drink, grown and produced by the farmers who make it all possible.