Direct subsidies to farmers should be scrapped in favour of increasing investment in agricultural research and development, according to a leading farm economist.
Sean Rickard said too little money has been spent on agricultural research over the past decade and Common Agricultural Policy funding could no longer be wasted propping up ineffective farmers.
Speaking at the Cropworld Global 2011 conference in London on Monday (31 October), Mr Rickard said farmers were only going to be able to feed growing populations if they were going to adopt new technologies.
“We stopped spending on R&D and wasted money on policies,” he told delegates. “We badly need to reverse that.
“A good farmer looks after his countryside and the environment. We don’t need funding to encourage that.
“I would scrap all farm subsidies and put money into research. That’s how we are going to feed the world and turn farming into the high-tech industry should be.”
Mr Rickard said agriculture could help the UK climb out of economic difficulty, but it had to be given the same opportunities other large industries had to develop.
Too much credence had been given to less high-tech organic systems which would not help the world produce as much food as it could, he added.
“In aviation, it would be madness not to think about using the biggest and best technology, but in agriculture that’s the situation we have.
“Organic production can never feed us,” he said. “It accounts for 1.4% of the UK’s food – we consume as much cat food as organic food.
“Yet that small minority are holding back a whole industry and the science and technology that industry depends on.”
Mr Rickard said the industry had got itself in a “ridiculous situation” where consumers had a bucolic view of agriculture and were unwilling to accept that farming was industrial and needed to employ the best technology.
“To get people to change their minds, they will have to realise they will have to pay more for food,” he added.