We need fresh thinking on farming, says NFU president
A leading industry figure is calling for a fresh approach to agriculture from the Government as farmers in the Westcountry continue to suffer from the results of last year's extreme weather.
Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers' Union, said a tranche of issues needed to be addressed positively, as the nation's farming sector lost £1.3 billion during 2012.
"The year has starkly demonstrated the cost that extreme weather events can wreak on farmers and the food supply chain," he said.
"As we enter 2013 many farmers are in areas under water or facing huge feed bills for their livestock.
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"Extreme weather certainly requires fresh thinking from agricultural policymakers and the whole food-supply chain to ensure that our farmers can adapt and our food supply is resilient."
Better relationships and sharing of risk in the food-supply chain would help farmers plan in volatile and uncertain times, he said.
Mr Kendall added: "We're seeing evidence of positive moves by retailers to create meaningful long-term relationships with farmers, which will help provide much greater security of supply to consumers."
A major issue directly affecting farmers was the reform of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy.
"During these straitened economic times we have not argued for the CAP to be exempt from cuts," he stressed. "But we have urged the Government to help to make current, distorted markets work properly and to ensure our farmers are treated fairly.
"In years like 2012 it is very clear to see that the support farming receives from the CAP is an absolute lifeline to many farmers. If there is to be a reduction in these payments it should take place evenly across Europe's single market.
"Already an English dairy farmer, on a typical 100-hectare farm, receives 20,000 euros a year less than a Danish or Dutch competitor. This has to stop. We have heard Government representatives refer to these support payments as 'worthless', arguing that payments should only go to environmental goals. With the possible exception of Sweden, the UK Government is the only one out of 27 member state countries in the EU arguing in this way. I firmly believe the only likely outcome of this strategy is further discrimination against English farmers.
"In a new year that is likely to be critical in terms of agricultural policy, it would be helpful if ministers could explain how they think English farmers can face the challenge of more hostile weather with only a fraction of the support given to their closest competitors in Europe," he added.
"Farmers remain generally optimistic for the longer-term, but this will be a crucial year when the building blocks for a secure food supply and resilient farming sector are put in place.
"Our industry is well-placed to help deliver jobs and growth in 2013 – but for the longer-term we need fresh thinking that builds confidence and resilience for meeting one of societies greatest challenges – feeding a growing population in a smarter, more sustainable way."