4 January 2002
Drop old arguments, farmers told

By Isabel Davies in Oxford

THE governments rural advisor has urged farmers to ditch old arguments against the government and public 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 3 billion 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 countyside and farmers been clearer, he told the Oxford Farming Conference on Friday (4 January),

The former president of the Country Land and Business Association said he believed farming could and should be at the heart of the rural economy.

The industry was not dying, but it was in the process of being born again.

But he warned that farmers would have to become rural entrepreneurs in future, a concept he admitted that many would find 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.

Asked by a delegate about his role as rural advocate, Mr Cameron said he had more trouble dealing with Civil Servants than Government ministers.

“I have a lot more trouble with Civil Servants than Ministers, trying to convince them to take agricultural ideas on board can be very difficult.

“The Ministers do listen and are showing some interest in agricultural issues. On the whole I think we are getting our ideas across well.”