16 November 2001

New policy is the key to surviving pressures

A NEW rural policy is needed if UK agriculture is to survive the growing national and international pressures of coming years, says the chief executive of merchants body UKASTA.

Speaking at the SAC Outlook conference in Edinburgh on Wed, Nov 15, Jim Reed suggested that future policy needed to be underpinned by three pillars.

The first was direct support from the public purse for farming and other rural activities that protect and enhance the environment. This should comprise guaranteed funding, at modest level, for those achieving prescribed agri-environmental targets.

"On top of these basics, delivering certain specific public goods could earn farmers more money from the public purse, for example in relation to landscape conservation, habitat improvement or enhanced public access," said Mr Reed. But he accepted that environment grants alone would not replace the funds currently paid under the CAP.

The second pillar, therefore, should provide framework legislation to enable farmers and their suppliers to survive the inevitable fluctuations of food markets increasingly subject to world competition.

"I believe the EU authorities must enable producers to help themselves in this respect, possibly through the creation of producer-funded equalisation or stabilisation funds."

The third pillar, according to Mr Reed, needed a clear policy from government to support and develop assurance schemes so they eventually deliver clear consumer benefits and become a unique selling point for British food and drink products.

"I believe the government should get firmly behind insurance schemes and give them the strongest possible backing," he said. &#42