In 10 to 15 years’ time agriculture in the UK should be capable of operating in a globally competitive market without the need for support payments, junior DEFRA minister Lord Bach has told Oxford Farming Conference delegates.

In his first visit to the conference, Lord Bach made it clear that the UK government will continue its pursuit of reform of the CAP, both at a domestic and European level.

“The UK farming industry has always been among the first in Europe to identify and seize the opportunities presented by reforms, and I fully expect this to continue in the future.”

He added: “So my message to you today should be: The period of change in farming which has already begun will continue.”

While he acknowledged the difficulties generated by the changes taking place in the industry, he said now was the time to be “building the foundations for the kind of industry we want to see in 10 to 15 years’ time rather than sitting back and waiting for it to be shaped for us”.

Focusing primarily on four areas, Lord Bach outlined how the UK government considers European agriculture should look in 15 years.

-Progression to an internationally competitive industry driven by market forces through removal of subsidies and trade barriers.
-Greater emphasis on protecting the environment.
-More responsive to the needs of rural communities.
-Food produced with high regard to animal health and welfare.

But he stressed that neither the UK nor the EU should go it alone in pursuit of reform. CAP reform must be Europe wide and not specific to a few member states that choose to implement reforms. Other developed countries, including the United States, he said, had farm polices that were in need of reform.

As for the immediate future he urged farmers to pay special attention to the cross-compliance criteria for receiving the payments.

“These are the only requirements you have to meet to get your full payments, so pay close attention to them.

“While we will be only inspecting around 1% of applicants, the EU rules are pretty explicit that payment reductions are required where there are negligent failures.”

The minister’s comments on a freer and fairer market were welcomed by NFU president Tim Bennett. but, he said, the changes could not be left to take place on their own. “We will also need a serious change of direction from the competition authorities.”