Rise in farm subsidies unlikely says expert

Higher subsidies to boost agricultural output are unlikely – despite concerns over food security, a leading academic has warned.

Farm subsidies will continue to be increasingly based on environmental payments rather than food production, said Allan Buckwell.

“Achieving food security is a challenge, but it is surmountable,” Professor Buckwell told the Norfolk Farming Conference on Thursday (25 February).

The real challenge was achieving environmental security and mitigating climate change while ensuring an adequate food supply.

An expert in issues affecting land use and farming, Prof Buckwell is policy director of the Country Land and Business Association.

Although food security was back in fashion, agricultural output was likely to meet rising demand from a growing world population, he said.

“This is an access-to-food problem, not a problem of production.”

While not under-estimating the challenge of food security, climate change was a challenge on a different scale of magnitude.

There was more cultivable land so productivity could increase massively. The new factors were climate change and other environmental limits.

Farmers would have a key role in the protection of resources such as water, soil and air, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Much of the action involves land management,” Prof Buckwell told 400 conference delegates at the John Innes Centre, Colney, Norwich.

But politicians had severely underestimated the scale of the action and budgets required to achieve environmental security, which was seen as a public good.

“The market can deliver food, but not public goods,” said Prof Buckwell. “If we don’t create the appropriate incentives, then farmers won’t supply them.”

Until now, farmers’ organisations had based their arguments for continued protection and income support mainly on food security.

But arguments based on a combination of food and environmental security would stand a better chance of support.

The debate over the structure of the post-2013 Common Agricultural Policy had seen increased emphasis on public goods.

Land management and environmental interests must therefore jointly make a case for the required budget, said Prof Buckwell.

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