AGRICULTURAL SUPPORT is here to stay for the foreseeable future, according to a panel of industry figures speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference.

But farmers will increasingly have to earn their subsidy payments by looking after the land, said NFU president Tim Bennett.

“Lord Whitty [junior DEFRA minister] said yesterday (Jan 5) that support would increasingly be for delivery of environmental goods, not historical production levels.

“But unless other countries around the world give up support by 2013, EU support will continue. The question is the size of the budget.”

Chris Pollock of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research said that looking after the countryside was a public good which would always need public support.

But the transparency of the new single farm payment means that farmers must be able to justify the subsidy to the public.

They were advised to use simple language by NFU president Tim Bennett.

“Don‘t go into too much technical detail,” he said. “And don‘t tell the media ‘it‘s my money‘, because it is taxpayers‘ money. And please don‘t stand up and say that it‘s a payment to do nothing.

“If politicians had to deliver the same services, it would cost three times as much, so it‘s a bargain!”

But words alone are not enough, and Chris Pollock called for farmers to build better contacts with the non-farming members of their communities.

He also told farmers to keep the public on their side by maintaining footpaths and taking their message about farming into schools.