DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman used a regrettable choice of words during her keynote address to this month’s Oxford Farming Conference, an influential committee of MPs has been told.

Mrs Spelman used her speech to tell industry leaders that farmers should reduce their reliance on direct payments. “Rising food prices make it possible to reduce subsidies and plan for their abolition,” she said.

NFU president Peter Kendall said he was disappointed. “I regretted the way the secretary of state expressed her views,” he told a hearing of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs select committee on Tuesday (11 January).

Farmers didn’t want to be the butt of jokes in village pubs, being asked to “get the beers in” when they received their subsidy cheques, said Mr Kendall. “They wanted to be in a position where the market returned them a fair living.”

It would have been more helpful had Mrs Spelman explained how the government intended to reach that position, said Mr Kendall. “Using the phrase ‘abolition of support’ immediately makes farmers very nervous,” he added.