27 February 1998

Adopt ICM before CAP reforms hit

By Edward Long

ARABLE farmers should adopt an integrated crop management approach now, so they are up and running with a workable system before Agenda 2000 reforms are put in place.

That was the message agrochemical industry consultant Tony Pike and countryside minister Elliot Morley gave last weeks Suffolk FWAG conference in Ipswich.

"ICM balances the requirements of running a profitable business with responsibility and sensitivity to the environment," Mr Pike told the Bayer-sponsored event.

"It takes into account the need for profitability, produce quality, sustainability and environmental awareness. Farmers embracing it will be better placed to cope with whatever changes come with Agenda 2000." The ICM concept, which combines modern technology with best agricultural practice, has broad support from the various agencies involved in rural affairs, he said. "Co-operation has replaced the confrontation that existed 10 years ago."

On that point Mr Pike stressed that environmental groups had a responsibility to provide on-farm guidance and advice. Input suppliers are already playing their part. "Each year £1.3bn is reinvested to find new compounds that are more target-specific, less persistent, less prone to leaching and have a lower environmental load than existing ones.

Countryside minister Elliot Morley confirmed the governments support for CAP reform and its desire for the EU to redirect a proportion of the savings to measures targeted towards environmental and rural needs.

But sustainable farming must be profitable, he stressed. Calls for conditions to be attached to arable payments should not detract from the overall objective of market-orientated CAP reform.

"The UK government calls for less emphasis on production-related support, and more on the protection of the environment and wider rural issues." Agenda 2000 proposals are a step in the right direction. But they are not accepted without question. "We do not support the idea of putting a ceiling at EU level on total payments to farmers."