Prepare for reform: Gummer

BRITAIN'S farmers need to prepare for major change as reform of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy progresses, delegates at a conference in Suffolk were told yesterday.

By Duncan Brodie

BRITAIN'S farmers need to prepare for major change as reform of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy progresses, delegates at a conference in Suffolk were told yesterday.

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer, a former Agriculture Minister and Environment Secretary, said the farming industry needed to adopt a radical approach to change, rather than view the current mid-term review of the CAP as simply the latest round of reform.

Mr Gummer was speaking at the Suffolk FWAG (Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group) Conference, held at Ipswich Town Football Club and this year entitled "Green Fields or Red Tape?"


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The UK farming industry needed to recognise that, as it was perceived by the public, it was unattractive and, in future, "commodity" production would inevitably be regulated rather than incentivised, said Mr Gummer.

There was a market opportunity for some UK farmers to go down the commodity route, although it was vital that they were not put at a disadvantage under World Trade Organisation rules.

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The last round of WTO talks had come down against the EU's CAP payments but had done nothing to cut US-style farm support, said Mr Gummer.

While Europe recognised that its system was not perfect and had to change, the US did not regard its system as amounting to support at all, and it was vital for Europe as a whole to ensure its farmers were not left at a disadvantage.

Mr Gummer said that incentives would continue to be available to some types of farm on the basis that there were some things people felt instinctively were worth supporting (more so elsewhere in Europe than in the UK).

This would mean identifying products which attracted a premium and adopting more innovative ways to getting food to the market.

These farmers needed to be tough with themselves in recognising, and doing, what they were good at, added Mr Gummer, and should avoid relying entirely upon incentive payments.

Prof Jules Pretty from Essex University, who is director of the Centre for Environment and Society and has served on Government advisory committees, echoed the need for radical thinking.

He said UK farming needed to restore its connection with the rest of the community which had been broken over the past 50 years, largely as a result in productivity increases which had removed the risk of food shortages.

Reconnecting meant farmers organising themselves in groups, adding value to the food the produced and selling it direct to the public.

Land should be viewed as a community rather than a commodity, he added, and there was a need for the industry "to tell a better story".

Among those also taking part in yesterday's conference were Stephen Fletcher of property consultants Bidwells, Angela Sydenham of law firm Birketts and Suffolk farmer John Cousins, director of agricultural policy for the Wildlife Trusts.

Issues addressed include Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, Environmental Impact Assessments and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.

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