Politicians clashed over whether UK agriculture would be better in or out of Europe at the Oxford Farming Conference.
Defra secretary Liz Truss vowed to fight for a better deal for UK farmers to create a more level-playing field with their EU counterparts.
She said the government was pushing Brussels for “less bureaucracy and less interference in main issues of competitiveness”.
The minister stressed it was important UK farmers were given access to the latest technology and products, including access to GM technology to improve our yields and disease resilience.
However, Ms Truss would not be drawn on the fortunes of UK agriculture if the government left the EU, insisting it was a “hypothetical question”.
Shadow farm minister Huw Irranca-Davies said the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should be “leaner, meaner and greener” and he criticised the government for its anti-EU rhetoric.
He said the reliance of farming on production subsidy should reduce over time and subsidies should be “better targeted on public goods, including sustainability and environmental gains”.
But if UK growers and farmers walked away from Europe entirely, other nations would take subsidies, he warned. “That would put the sectors of farming, which still rely on direct payments at a multi-billion pound disadvantage.”
Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said Westminster’s in-out referendum on the EU was a “£20bn gamble with the future of Scottish and British farming”.
Leaving the EU would mean leaving the CAP, which for many Scottish farmers, would mean “opting out of farming”, he added, because 85% farm in Less Favoured Areas and “often face challenges in terms of profitability”.
But Ukip agriculture spokesman Stuart Agnew proposed a modified SFP system with an £80/acre payment to lowland farmers, less pro rata on uplands, to be capped at £120,000 per holding or 1,500 acres, if the UK left the EU.
“There will be no more debating on this figure, no greening, no set-aside and no interference in your cropping,” said Mr Agnew.
On a show of hands in the OFC audience, no farmers indicated they supported the UK leaving the EU.
About 35% said they would vote Conservative at the forthcoming elections. But only a handful of delegates raised their arms to indicate support for either Labour or Ukip.