An influential group of agriculturalists and farmers has called on the government to take immediate steps to improve the competitiveness of UK agriculture.
The Commercial Farmers Group has published a short paper, Let UK Agriculture Compete, which says the government should be more concerned about the decline in British farming’s competitiveness.
DEFRA’s own Total Factor Productivity figures show agricultural productivity in the UK does not appear to be keeping up with improvements in many other EU member states or the USA.
A report published last month showed agricultural productivity in the UK is broadly only two-thirds of the US level.
The government is currently consulting on how to make the industry more resilient and competitive, but the CFG says some of the answers are “manifestly clear” now and policy should be changed very quickly.
The report identifies three main areas where UK farmers are probably at a disadvantage. These relate to research and development, the future development of the CAP and education, training and skills.
On the subject of the CAP, the CFG says that policy changes from 2013 are likely to impact significantly on farm profitability.
It points out political support for the CAP is still strong, but it is weakening under financial pressures and the move towards payments linked to the environment has at times hindered competitiveness.
It suggests that if direct payments to farmers have to be reduced it must apply across the World, not only Europe, and the reduction must take place over a number of years.
The environmental objectives of Pillar 2 funding should also be rebalanced so they are more flexible and administrative costs are reduced, it says.
Research and development
Lack of funding for research and development is highlighted as another area of concern.
It suggests there needs to be a coordinated approach to food security across government departments and a cultural shift so that the focus of research is on solving the future challenges facing the industry.
Education and training
Another priority area identified in the report is how to raise the levels of education and training in farming.
Several colleges teaching agriculture and related subjects have closed and there has been a plethora of confused initiatives on agricultural training and skills, says the CFG.
The paper says that government and the industry should work with education and training providers to develop a unified qualifications framework for the industry which incorporates and encourages continuing professional development (CPD) recognition.
You can read the paper and add your own comments and thoughts on the forums.