NFU 2009: Farming can lead recovery, says Kendall

Agriculture can lead the country out of recession and should be put at the core of the British economy, NFU president Peter Kendall has said.

Speaking at the NFU conference in Birmingham today (Monday), Mr Kendall said farming was setting a new agenda which meant it could no longer be neglected.

Calling for better policy making and support from government and business, Mr Kendall said agriculture was one of the few industries with reasonable prospects in the coming year.

“What is more, with the right agenda farming could be even placed to help the country recover,” he told delegates.

Mr Kendall said agriculture was entering a new era where farmers needed to produce more food while impacting less on the environment.

But if that aim was going to be achieved, farming needed to agree long-term targets with government over issues such as climate change, agricultural science and environmental performance.

Calling for a long-term strategy to tackle animal health, Mr Kendall repeated the NFU’s vow to fight DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn’s “bitterly disappointing” decision not to allow a badger cull to tackle bovine TB.

“Bluntly, I have to tell you, you got it wrong,” he told the minister. “We remain convinced that eradication will mean tackling all sources of the disease and we will pursue this relentlessly.”

But Mr Kendall reserved his greatest criticism for Mr Benn’s announcement that he is determined to reintroduce a voluntary scheme to capture some of the benefits of set aside.

“This offends against all the principles of good regulation, it flies in the face of the desire to produce as much food as possible,” he said.

Warning many farmers will be put off Entry Level Stewardship, Mr Kendall said the government’s flagship scheme would sink, threatening all the environmental benefits it promised to deliver.

He urged the minister to accept a voluntary alternative which would be met with more enthusiasm by the industry, would achieve real benefits and meet the objectives of government and industry.

“Our objective is to increase production while continuing to improve our environmental performance,” he said.

“If we have the right long-term vision and the right business environment, this organisation can take the lead and this industry will deliver this new agenda for farming.”