It will be farming, but not as we know it

31 Jan 02
Agriculture Secretary Margaret Beckett will try to convince angry farmers this week that government proposals for wholesale change are the only way ahead for an industry that is in freefall.

01 February 2002

Beckett is expected to make the government's case for reform at the National Farmers Union annual conference on February 7. The proposals were made in a 'watershed' report on the industry post foot and mouth by the Commission for Food and Farming Policy, which was published on January 29.

The agriculture secretary will seek to demonstrate that the phasing out of annual subsidies, worth some £3bn each year, to be replaced by a system that rewards support for the countryside, is the only option for Britain's 169,000 full-time farmers.

Other proposals include increasing organic farming, ensuring farmers have licences guaranteeing they will work the land in an environmentally friendly way and urging supermarkets to sell more local food.

The government hopes to meet some of these changes, estimated to cost £500m, by altering the way farmers receive funding from the Common Agricultural Policy.

Member states can redirect a proportion of CAP grant to help sustainable methods of farming. Currently this stands at 2.5%, though it could rise to 10% in the next two years. 'This report points the way towards greater co-operation across the food chain,' said Beckett.

But she faces a hard task in winning her argument. The NFU has already voiced its opposition and is currently working out the implications of the changes.

'With the industry in its current dire state it is hardly surprising that we oppose suggestions of taking money from farmers in this way. It equates to taking away cash that farmers simply do not have,' said NFU president Ben Gill.

The transfer from a subsidy to a market-based system could result in heavy job losses. The NFU points out that 60,000 jobs have been lost in the farming industry in the past three years.

It is checking whether the £500m figure is correct. Beckett will also have to convince the Treasury that the cost of the proposals can be met by the public purse.


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