By Mike Abram at the Crops Conference

Farmers should focus on improving their competitiveness in readiness for the tougher times ahead after 2013, DEFRA’s John Robbs told the English Crops Conference at Chilford Hall, near Cambridge. 

“My expectation is there will be a period of relative stability up until 2013 based on the CAP reforms in 2003,” he said.

The Single Farm Payment, which he described as arguably the most significant development in 40 years within the CAP, would remain an essential component until at least 2013.

But the 2003 reforms didn’t reduce the CAP budget, and is subject to ongoing negotiations, he noted. “That is being pursued at head of government level.”

The expectation was that there would be a reduction in the level of funding after 2013. “In the crops sector we are currently paying out £1bn in subsidies. Clearly there is no expectation that will continue.”

The key would be making sure that the cuts that come wouldn’t discriminate against UK farming, he said.

“The underlying message to all this is that this industry has got time to improve competitiveness so we’re ready for the tougher world after 2013.”

The recent introduction of a fully decoupled regime without delay in England would bring advantages for farmers in giving them more time to adapt than other countries who have only partially decoupled initially, he suggested.