Farm minister Jim Paice has pledged to help set agriculture on fire as producers rise to the challenge of feeding a growing world population.
In a keynote speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, Mr Paice said a more innovative approach was vital as farmers increased output while looking after the environment.
Agriculture’s cosy image might be valued by many consumers, but technology meant farmers were feeding more people than ever, he told delegates on Wednesday (4 January).
“Sustainable intensification – using less and producing more – are very simple slogans but we need to turn that into real policy,” he said.
“We can sentimentalise farmers as small players in a market dominated by supermarkets at home and by multinational conglomerates abroad – or we can set this industry on fire and then take the opportunities and face the reality that those opportunities provide.”
Farmers should be proud that they continued to provide most of the food consumed in Britain and ready to play their part feeding a world population set to reach 9.5bn people, said Mr Paice.
“This is not some argument about size – about big or small, about family or corporate businesses – it is much more about attitude.”
Farmers faced a choice of pining for the old days of government intervention and protection, or facing the challenges of the future, said Mr Paice.
“They are challenges really for the industry; they are not really challenges for government but we are there to play our part in helping the industry to meet those challenges.”
Farmers should prepare to become less dependent on the single payment as a source of farm income, Mr Paice told listeners.
But abolishing direct payments immediately was not an option. Instead, subsidies should be phased out over time in a way that encouraged efficiency rather than stifled it.
“We need to set out on a journey to wean the industry away from direct support – not now, not even in the next seven-year period – but a journey with a clear destination.”
At the same time, a greater proportion of CAP funds should be used to promote agricultural innovation and encourage farmers to invest in their businesses, added Mr Paice.
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