NFU president Peter Kendall has urged the government to take the lead in Europe over plans to reform the Common Agricultural Policy.

Speaking at an NFU fringe event at the Labour Party conference in Brighton on Monday (28 September), Mr Kendall said DEFRA had been making “positive noises” about agriculture over the past two years.

But he urged DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn to lead discussions in Europe about a post-2013 CAP.

“The voices coming from DEFRA over the past two years have been appreciated,” Mr Kendall told the minister.

“One of the reasons farmers still feel optimistic is the language has changed, that farming is going to be important in the future. That’s a massive help for people looking to make investments.

“But there’s a process under way to redress CAP and, given we are in a different place globally to where we were at the last reform, we want to be driving the discussions in Europe.”

Mr Kendall said CAP going forward was “not about having the begging bowl out” and that farmers understood that the industry needed to provide value for money to compete for public funds.

“We acknowledge CAP has to change and we want to be part of that debate,” he said.

But he expressed concern that some states had already begun negotiating changes while DEFRA had made no efforts to engage in the discussions.

“We should be putting the right drivers in place, to invest more in research in development, to drive decoupling across Europe where we are seeing backtracking,” he said.

“We want a CAP that’s fit for purpose, but at the same time we feel outside that debating chamber.

“The UK government has led the debate on climate change and now it needs to take the lead on food security and say we want a CAP that doesn’t get rid of Pillar One money.”

Mr Benn denied DEFRA had stepped back from CAP discussions and that it had argued against the “recoupling”of the dairy sectors Germany and France had been arguing for.

“Believe you me, we are very much part of the debate in Europe,” he said.

“In the end we need a strong agricultural policy that is sensible. I’m a strong advocate in supporting farmers to deliver the benefits which the markets can’t afford.

“If we continue to keep working together farming will have a strong and bright future. Farming is going to be more important than ever before.”