11 January 2002

Cameron urges new approach

THE governments rural adviser urged farmers to ditch old arguments against the government and the publics lack of understanding of agriculture. Ewen Cameron, chairman of the Countryside Agency, said farmers must recognise taxpayers priorities have changed if they want public money.

"We need to avoid a very real danger – that the taxpayer decides the £3bn of the public purse spent on agriculture is just too high a price to pay," he said. "We must recognise that we have become divorced, in many cases, from the rural economies surrounding us and urban consumers who buy our products."

Mr Cameron said foot-and-mouth gave farmers an opportunity – perhaps their last – to improve their image. Never have the connections between the countryside and farmers been clearer, he told the Oxford Farming Conference. Farming could and should be at the heart of the rural economy, he added.

British agriculture was not dying, but was in the process of being born again, Mr Cameron said. Farmers must become rural entrepreneurs, although many producers would find this difficult. "They will have to do what every entrepreneur does – recognise the unique selling points of their products and to understand what their customers want."

As rural entrepreneurs, farmers would have to put in front of the public and government an investment plan that could be taken seriously. This plan would outline a new approach which mix and matched outputs from the land in a sustainable way, said Mr Cameron.