DEFRA SHOULD switch from regulator to supporter of UK agriculture, NFU president Tim Bennett told showgoers.

Margaret Beckett [DEFRA secretary] should forge a new relationship between UK farming and her department, Mr Bennett said at a farmers weekly Farmer Forum.

He pointed to the US Department of Agriculture”s approach, which, he said, was to help farmers deliver what society wanted without hurting industry competitiveness.

“My challenge to DEFRA is to grab the opportunity we now have to develop a new kind of relationship,” Mr Bennett said.

He urged DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett to tell farmers what she didn”t like about what they were doing.

She should then give British farmers the opportunity to react to the criticism and then support their efforts to develop the industry further.

“DEFRA now has a wonderful opportunity to work with British farmers. We should sit down and decide where we want to be in 10-15 years time.

“Then we should develop a plan setting out how to get there without harming our industry”s competitiveness,” said Mr Bennett.

CAP reform requires a complete culture change, Mr Bennett argued, one that must be reflected in how farmers relate both to consumers and the government.

He said that the NFU”s three top priorities in 2005 would be to change the way farming communicated with consumers, to help reduce the cost burden for UK agriculture and to make sure that the UK food supply chain worked fairly.

There is a strong need, Mr Bennett said, for the farming industry to make UK consumers demand British food products.

“We must take our message straight to consumers rather than go via the retailers.

“If we manage to create consumer demand for our products, the big retailer boys will have to stock it,” Mr Bennett said.