Government told to bring

29 June 2001

Government told to bring

farmers in from the cold

By Johann Tasker

THE government has been urged to revitalise farming by adopting a fresh approach to agriculture after years of decline. Separate blueprints for the future of farming in England and Scotland paint a picture of a booming rural economy in which farmers are paid to deliver a range of benefits beyond food production.

The Countryside Agency, which advises the government on rural England, launched a Strategy for Sustainable Land Management on Wednesday (Jun 27). Local authorities would draw up contracts with farmers to promote practices such as conservation, biodiversity, landscape enhancement and recreation.

Agency chairman Ewen Cameron said: "If we are to save agriculture from becoming a sunset industry, we need to take action now." He added: "We need to bring farmers in from the cold. It is time to re-engage farmers in a new contract with the public."

In Scotland, rural development minister Ross Finnie unveiled a Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture. It would see farmers paid for providing local economic, social and environmental benefits. Schemes could include forestry, tourism, environmental work or even bagpipe-making.

The Scottish strategy cites the case of Argyllshire crofter Dugald Cameron, whose bagpipe-making business supplements his income from 50 breeding ewes. He said: "It is essential that crofters are encouraged to adapt into other businesses allowing them to live and work in these rural parts."

NFU Scotland leader Jim Walker said it was time for all farmers to recognise that no-one owed them a living. "This strategy is all about getting farmers off the subsidy treadmill. Its about offering them choices."

The success of both strategies largely depends on whether ministers can convince the EU Comission of the need for change. The Scottish strategy, which sets out a number of issues to be tackled, would require approval from Brussels before some funding could be redirected.

The Countryside Agency plan would require a wide-ranging overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy. But Margaret Beckett, DEFRAminister, may find herself in the minority if she pushes for reform in the run-up to next years mid-term CAP review.

Andrew Clark, NFU rural development and countryside adviser, said: "A lot of people are thinking in broadly similar terms. But the danger is that other countries may take a different line as we go towards CAP reform. Were not absolutely certain that other member states will operate in the same way and we want a pan-European policy for all rural areas." &#42

&#8226 For more on the future of farming, see pages 14,15.

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