Farmers will be expected to make a greater financial contribution towards meeting the cost of things like animal disease management, BSE controls and livestock tracing, as government looks to save money.
Addressing the NFU council this week, head of food and farming Kevin Pearce explained that DEFRA already needed to find £200m to meet the exceptional costs of avian flu and the Rural Payments Agency debacle.
And as part of the comprehensive spending review for 2008-2011, it was looking to trim its spending by at least £90m.
It would therefore be looking increasingly for “cost sharing” with farmers, especially in the area of animal health and welfare, which is the biggest single item on the DEFRA budget.
There was also pressure coming from Brussels for more cost sharing. Many member states already took this approach and the EU Commission wants to harmonise these contributions to ensure all farmers pay the same.
“The train has already left the station [on cost sharing],” Mr Pearce told the council. “It’s going to happen.” It was therefore essential that the farming industry turned it to its advantage by forging stronger relationships with DEFRA.
The “stakeholder” approach of the past – under which DEFRA consulted with industry then did what it wanted – should be replaced by genuine partnership, with shared responsibility.
“If we have to pay, we have to have a say,” Mr Pearce insisted.
Areas for attention would include the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control regulations, the national scrapie plan and the Agricultural Wages Board.
NFU president Peter Kendall said the costs that the industry would have to meet would be far outweighed by the reductions in the regulatory burden that would ensue.
But other delegates were more sceptical. Dorset county chairwoman Helen Box said it was impossible to trust DEFRA, especially since it had not even responded to the industry’s seven point plan for tackling TB submitted two months ago.
And Hertfordshire council representative Richard Percy complained that there just was not the money available from agricultural markets to recoup any of the costs soon to be placed on the industry.
DISEASE LEVY TALKS SUSPENDED
The NFU council supported a resolution from the south west region urging that “no further discussions should be undertaken with the government regarding any form of disease levy” until it deals with the TB/badger issue.
A number of delegates were concerned that, if the NFU refused to negotiate on a disease levy, DEFRA would just do what it wanted to do anyway.
But NFU president Peter Kendall insisted the resolution did not prevent the union from engaging in the comprehensive spending review and developing a framework for cost sharing, with a proper level of shared responsibility.