AGRICULTURE IS fast moving towards a watershed year, according to Donald Curry the chairman of the implementation group overseeing the delivery of the government‘s strategy for sustainable farming.

“Do not underestimate the changes that will take place in 2005,” Sir Donald told a seminar at the Royal Show.

“It will be a new course for UK agriculture and the biggest change to its structure for at least 50 years.

“It will be a foundation year where the three pillars of sustainability – economics, environment and social – come to the fore,” Sir Donald predicted.

He also rejected farmer concerns that the government strategy focused too heavily on the environment and overlooked farm profitability.

“Many still think the government is too focussed on the environment. But this is not so.

“The implementation group and the government are working together to link the environment with profitability,” Sir Donald said.

“We devote more time to economics than anything else. We recognise it as the most crucial element of sustainability,” he added.

“Our aim is to establish a profitable, competitive and efficient farming and food sector which protects and enhances our countryside and produces healthy food valued by consumers.”

But Sir Donald said that profit and sustainability would depend on the farm industry embracing the coming changes.

“It will need – cooperation and trust, efficiency and competitiveness and innovation and flexibility.”

“The industry is progressing in these areas but there is still a long way to go. Only by working in partnership, will our industry have a brighter and sustainable future.

“No man is an island. We may all have to surrender some of our independence to achieve this brighter future,” Sir Donald said.

He also underlined the importance of reconnecting farming with consumers.

“Reconnection is key to achieving our aim. The food chain must reconnect with the environment and consumers must reconnect with what they eat and how it is produced.

“Ultimately we will achieve our aims by the decoupling of support and the single farm payment.

“And by better regulation and the whole farm appraisal along with support from partnership and collaboration bodies.

“The future will be unsubsidised but not unsupported,” he concluded.