BRITISH food and drink exports have grown to nearly £19 billion with 112 new export markets opening in the past year, according to the Government.

Farmers leaders' will be told today there has been a rise of nearly £180 million in the food and drink sector to non-EU markets.

Farming Minister George Eustice is to claim that Government action to cut red tape, get the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) right, encourage innovation and safeguard plant and animal health have helped potential growth.

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In his speech to the National Farmers' Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham, Mr Eustice is to say: "Our long-term economic plan builds a stronger, more competitive economy and secures a better future for Britain by helping spread growth and prosperity.

"For years, the rural economy and farms were ignored. Today, the Government is doing everything it can to support them. And that means more jobs, more opportunities and more financial security for hard-working people."

His speech on the first day of the conference comes as research suggests that Britain's farming sector has defied the recession by contributing an additional £8.6bn to the UK economy.

The report, entitled Backing the Business of British Farming, shows UK agriculture's contribution to the economy increased by 54% between 2007 and 2012.

It also claims that food and drink is now the UK's fourth largest export sector, having grown by 2.5% in the first half of 2013.

Speaking ahead of the event, NFU president Peter Kendall said: "This report proves that farming has been delivering for Britain's economy despite the challenges thrown at us over the past couple of years - heavy rain, drought, unseasonable snow and flooding."