DEFRA Caroline Spelman has called for a new partnership between the government and farmers, insisting she will fight for a fair deal from CAP reform.

The “perfect storm” of energy and water shortages driving up food prices had already arrived, Mrs Spelman told NFU Conference on Tuesday (15 February).

“We must push for transparency and good governance to tackle the volatility that hits the poorest the hardest. But it’s you, the farmers, who hold the key to global food security and it’s essential that CAP reform reflects this.”

The government opposed the “dogmatic scrapping of subsidies tomorrow” but it did want genuine and enduring reform, she said.

CAP reform should help farmers become more market-orientated, opening up markets to farmers and rewarding them for the environmental benefits they delivered.

“I’ll be working hard for a deal that is fair to farmers, the food industry, taxpayers and the environment. But let’s be realistic. There’s bound to be a smaller CAP budget.

“It won’t be farming ministers deciding this, but the finance ministers trying to balance the books.

Change must be met with energy and resourcefulness, said Mrs Spelman. With the government behind them, farmers would not fail.

“I want this new relationship to be one of true collaboration – a partnership of equals.

“We’re not going to tell you how to run your businesses, but we are going to create the conditions in which your businesses can succeed.

“We’re not going to ignore your dedication or dismiss your expertise, but we are going to help you use that dedication and expertise to full advantage.”

The government’s Farm Regulation Task Force, aimed at reducing the red tape around agriculture, would report this spring, said Mrs Spelman.

“As we move from a culture of control to one of trust, it’s for you to ensure it’s also a culture of high standards.”

Despite financial pressure, the government had protected the Rural Development Programme for England and its Natural Environment White Paper would cast farmers in a central role.

The government had also put up £12.6m for research into ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Mrs Spelman said her 20-minute speech could never do justice to the size and complexity of the challenges facing the farming industry.

“I’m certainly not saying it’s going to be easy but I can offer you a new relationshiop – a new partnership – with government.

“In us you have a partner that wants you to succeed – and believes you can.”


Read more NFU Conference coverage 2011