20 October 1999
Secret report to shake up agriculture

By FWi staff

A SECRET report prepared for the government contains plans to radically overhaul the farming sector and turn farmers into “rural entrepreneurs”.

The report, prepared on the orders of Prime Minister Tony Blair, proposes the biggest shake-up in the rural sector since the Second World War.

The primary role of farmers as food producers to feed the nation would be abolished, according to The Times in a front-page lead story today.

In return, the rules banning building on prime farmland would be ripped up, releasing thousands of acres for building development, says the paper.

The change would mean that the Ministry of Agriculture would lose its veto over development plans on prime farming land, it adds.

The report, by the governments Performance and Innovation Unit, suggests farmers would be allowed to sell land for new homes and tourist facilities.

Although hundreds of farmers would stand to make huge profits, especially in urban fringe areas, all land in the future would be subject to planning consent.

The controversial 200-page document, which was leaked to Valerie Elliott, The Times countryside editor, is due for release in six weeks.

Key proposals in the report include recommendations for a tax on pesticides, more farmers markets, and payments to hill farmers who manage the uplands.

Plans for a pesticide tax, vehemently opposed by many farmers, will form part of next years comprehensive spending review conducted by the Treasury.

The report recommends that ministers should continue to consider the implementation of a tax on pesticides within “a range of environmental taxes”.

New farmers markets would be encouraged by a abolishing medieval laws preventing markets being set up within a six-mile radius of an existing market.

Hill farmers would receive compensation to manage the sensitive upland areas where incomes has been hardest hit by the crisis in agriculture.

The report recommends an end to Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances in favour of payment to farmers who comply with key environmental conditions.

The changes would be financed by savings from CAP, existing funds and a new category of rural objectives from the lotterys new Opportunities Fund.

The proposals are expected to form part of the rural white paper expected to be published next year.