Farmers facing a double challenge

THE agricultural industry will need to provide more food using fewer resources, a Government minister told East Anglian farmers yesterday

Speaking at a packed Sentry farming conference at Linton, near Haverhill, DEFRA Minister Jim Paice told delegates that the Government wanted to help the industry become more competitive and invest in the future.

“It’s clear the world’s agricultural sector, backed by politicians, needs to improve food security – using less water, less fuel and less land – and while adapting to climate change,” he said.

He also said it was “clear” that fundemental changes were needed to the Common Agricultural Policy, and that the budget would be smaller. But, while supporting the idea of reducing subsidy over time, he did not go as far as suggesting the financial crutch should be kicked from under the sector as part of CAP reform.

“We say ‘no’ to an unrealistic and dogmatic scrapping of subsidies tomorrow, but we say ‘yes’ to genuine and enduring reform,” he said.

“It’s not our policy to call for the end of subsidy tomorrow, or even the next day,” he said, but added that the Government wanted to reduce reliance on subsidies.

He also made clear that the Government was not in favour of capping payments for larger farms, and did not want subsidy to be a “social security benefit” for smaller farms.

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Mr Paice called for moves to encourage farmers to innovate, preserve resources and lessen the effects of climate change.

He also urged farmers to record environmental measures they were engaged in as part of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, as he believed much of what was being done by farmers was hidden and needed to be revealed to meet environmental targets.

George Lyon, a Member of the European Parliament who sits on the agriculture and rural development committee, told delegates that the industry had reached a watershed.

“Our current agricultural production model developed after the Second World War has been based on cheap energy, an abundance of land and plentiful supplies of water. That model cannot meet the challenges that now confront us,” he said.

“Unless we take action we face a perfect storm of food shortages and scarce energy supplies, and we need to develop a new agricultural model for the 21st Century that addresses these concerns, a model that’s more efficient, more innovative and more sustainable and one that produces more food while at the same time dramatically reduces our reliance on ever-scarcer resources.”