DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman has been warned not to ‘repeat the mistakes’ of her predecessor Margaret Beckett when it comes to CAP reform.
Opening the NFU annual conference in Birmingham, union president Peter Kendall said England’s farmers had been left uniquely disadvantaged by the model of CAP reform introduced by Mrs Beckett in 2005.
Addressing Mrs Spelman ahead of her keynote speech on Tuesday (21 Feb), he said it was down to her to secure an agreement that put farmers in England and Wales on the same footing as those in the rest of the EU and able to compete on world markets.
“Please don’t come back with an agreement which paves the way for England or Wales to choose unilaterally to reduce direct payments to their farmers or gives the flexibility to impose even deeper greening here than other member states are looking for,” he said.
“Do come back with news that you’ve secured a more level playing field for us, and the competitiveness of farmers in England and Wales has been strengthened, not compromised. “
A key concern was the plan for a fixed seven per cent of land to be taken out of production, as it would damage the productivity and competitiveness of Europe’s farms, he stressed.
In a wide-ranging speech on Tuesday (21 Feb), Mr Kendall threw down a challenge to government to match its rhetoric with supportive policies that delivered.
He praised DEFRA for taking steps to tackle the problem of bovine TB, by announcing two pilot badger culls, and for their proposals for planning reforms.
But in other areas of policy, there was still a mismatch between the government’s words and its delivery on the ground, he said.
A Groceries Adjudicator was “long promised, but still delayed” despite anecdotal evidence that supermarkets were still turning the screw on their suppliers, he said. The problem was that the retailers were all over Number 10 and the Business Department arguing that an adjudicator was anti-business.
Meanwhile, a proposal to force farmers to take down and re-build all pre-1991 silos and slurry stores, at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds, ran directly counter to the government’s commitment to cut red tape. There was no evidence that these older stores were causing pollution. “It is just a proposal without a purpose.”
Mr Kendall argued that the food and farming sector was a £100billion industry with the ability to kick-start the UK economy.
“Our over-riding priority is to realise our potential for delivering growth and boosting the economy – and by that I mean growth which is genuinely sustainable – now and into the future,” he said. “The now’s really important, because the £100bn farming and food industry can help kick-start this country’s economic recovery.”