9 November 2001

Shaping the future of farming with good food

EFFICIENT food production, not looking after the environment, is the way to secure farmings future, outspoken economist Séan Rickard has told farmers.

Politicians have said replacing direct payments with subsidies linked to looking after the countryside will lead to sustainable farming. But that was "dangerous rubbish", said Mr Rickard, former NFU chief economist now based at the Cranfield School of Management.

Future farming

Subsidies would not survive expansion of the EU and moves towards freer trade led by the World Trade Organisation. They would go completely within the next 10 to 20 years and the trend for fewer but bigger farms would continue, he told the National Sheep Association conference in Malvern on Wed, Nov 7.

"The future will be shaped by the fact you are first and foremost producers of food. If you are not efficient producers you are going to have a very difficult future."

He claimed paying British farmers to "produce the countryside" would take them further away from their core activity of production and make them less competitive. "You will then demand more money which the government wont pay."

Vertical integration

The best chance of survival was for farmers to increase their selling power and ability to adapt to the market by co-operating with each other and other sectors of the food chain. All farmers should look at the examples of vertical integration set by the poultry, potato and horticulture industries, said Mr Rickard.

"This means changing the mindset of farmers that receive 40% of their income in brown envelopes, but still think they are independent. Your future relies on you being more efficient and more competitive, otherwise you will end up like the car industry."

The rapturous applause as he left the stage contrasting with the silence as he approached indicated that his message may have got through. &#42